Merry Boxing Day Thought Bubblers! As today is the traditional celebratory holiday whereby we all celebrate Superman and Muhammad Ali teaming up to defeat the nefarious Scrubbs, I thought I’d give you a nice present in the form of our (i.e. my) favourite things of this (almost over) year. Now, obviously, we all know that the best thing about 2009 was the Thought Bubble festival – ahem – but there was a whole heaping pile of other good things that came out/happened this year too, so I’ll ramble on about them in no particular order and give you some “fascinating” insights too – it’s what the internet was made for. This probably won’t feature any comics, as I’ve spent a year living through them, but will feature every other form (e.g. telly, music, films) of popular culture.
This year was a great one for fans of square eyes, Battlestar Galactica finished in typically obtuse fashion, The Wire managed to round-off “the best telly series of all time” in a fitting manner, and Spongebob Squarepants celebrated its tenth anniversary. Enough has been written about the aforementioned shows to fill several quite large blogs so I’ll go through some of my other favourites instead.
1) Generation Kill While technically a 2008 series, this HBO masterclass in how to make a war-based drama was finally shown on British television this year, and so under my rules – it counts. Written by David Simon and Ed Burns (of The Wire) and based on the book of the same name this mini-series, quite frankly, blew my mind. The dialogue consisted mainly of dense military terms and acronyms with little or no explanation, there was a complete lack of dramatic irony, and the subject being tackled (American armed forces in Iraq) was one of the most contentious to be addressed this decade (besides the global warming debate, which, let’s be honest, wouldn’t be nearly be as interesting), and yet, simply put, it worked. Managing across its seven hours to avoid the Band of Brothers trap of portraying the military as unabashed heros, it featured some of the best writing, characterisation, acting, directing, et al to be seen on the small screen, something which would later be seen – in slightly more bombastic fashion – in The Hurt Locker. Get some.
2) Breaking Bad The second series of this sickeningly good american show finally arrived early this year, following a truncated initial run hampered by the writers’ strike of 2008. The show chronicles the struggle of chemistry teacher Walter White who, following a diagnosis of lung cancer, turns to ‘cooking’ and dealing meth with a former student in order to pay his spiralling medical bills. While I started watching Breaking Bad because the central conceit sounded fairly original, I continued watching because Bryan “I was the dad in Malcolm in the Middle” Cranston’s performance as Walter is a nuanced tour de force raising the series above a simple morality tale into the upper echelons of televisual perfection. Ably supported by cliche-free writing and a talented wider cast, it’s safe to say that this is one of the best, and easily the most morally ambiguous, American series since The Sopranos. Let’s cook.
3) The Venture Brothers Showing as part of Cartoon Network’s ‘grown-up’ imprint Adult Swim, the Venture Brothers has consistently topped my end of year charts since it started in 2003. Following the adventures of the eponymous siblings, their father (a super-scientist), and their homicidal bodyguard Brock Samson, it’s as manically brilliant as you’d expect a show created by one of The Tick‘s writers to be. Now in its fourth series, which has been shown over the last couple of months, the programme is part loving-homage to cartoons of yesteryear (most overtly Johnny Quest) and part pop-culture cornucopia with enough references to stun a wampa. The animation is top-notch, as is the voice acting, and the writing is (as with all the best comedy shows) infinitely quotable and laugh out loud funny. Go Team Venture!
Honourable Mentions Narrowly missing out on my top three was the consistently good Mad Men, the consistently gruff Sons of Anarchy, the consistently gross Misfits, the consistently ghoulish Being Human, and the consistently f**cking great The Thick Of It also all worth a watch.
While the behemoth that is Avatar seems to be grabbing all the end of year headlines cinema-wise (it’s light on story but heavy on spectacle), 2009 saw some great releases on the big(ger) screen. Moon saw an assured science fictional debut from Duncan “can’t say his name without adding a Bowie reference” Jones, Pixar’s Up made everyone cry, and Watchmen and Wolverine caused arguments at comic shops across the kingdom. Some others stood out for me though…
1) Star Trek A reboot of an ailing franchise that somehow manages to hark back to everything that made the series great in the first place while reinvgorating it and thus making it palatable for a contemporary audience, seems like an impossible ask. But apparently JJ Abrams had decided to boldly go where no director has gone before. The writing was good, the cast were great, and what could have been a disaster ended up being a perfect popcorn sci-fi flick. Set phazers to fun.
2) Let The Right One In With zombies shuffling back and forth through the popular zeitgeist for a few years now, 2009 saw vampire stories lunge from the shadows into the limelight (with an accompanying sizzle of seared flesh). While Twilight and True Blood seemed determined to undermine the inherent badass nature of everyone’s favourite haematomaniacs Låt den rätte komma In (to use its native Swedish name) instead looked to the macabre aspects of the vampire myth and, faithfully adhering to its source novel, created a dark contemporary fairytale reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth. These vampires don’t suck (groan).
3) Inglourious Basterds aka How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Quentin Tarantino. I went into Inglourious Basterds expecting QT’s take on war films (a Kill Bill for the Diry Dozen) I was disappointed on that front, but ended up walking out with it being my favourite Tarantino film. Cristoph Waltz embodied tetralingual perfection as one of my favourite movie baddies ever, and the palpable tension underlying each scene had me clawing against my seat. Again, much like Kill Bill, there was a fair bit of juxtaposition, but it had me giggling like a small child for all the wrong (and thus right) reasons. Glorious.
Honourable mentions Sam Raimi’s return to schlock horror Drag Me To Hell, Malcolm Tucker’s expletive-laden swansong In The Loop, a refreshing take on the sci-fi genre in District 9, the Studio Ghibli goodness returning in Ponyo, and the surprisingly good Shaun of the Dead US aka Zombieland.
I started this year, after reading about how Lady Gaga was going to ‘take over the world’, thinking it was another year for me to hide in a bunker with my generic MP3 playing device until it was safe for me to venture out again. However, this year in music, Jonas Brothers aside, actually turned out to be pretty good in the end. Animal Collective continued plowing their lone, wobbly furrow; Röyksopp reminded everyone why the musical landscape would be much duller without them, and Vampire Weekend wore their influences on their sleeves to great effect.
1) F**k Buttons – Tarot Sport Not only a great duo to watch live, but in Tarot Sport the Bristolian twosome have effectively made a soundtrack to the rapture. Doom-laden, but uplifting, sweeping but intimate, the album defies definition (e.g. I’ve misplaced my thesaurus), so I’ll stop my pretentions and simply exclaim that I put it on when walking and let my cares fade away. F**cking great.
2) Passion Pit – Manners One of those bands that I listened to expecting a whole lot of nothing, but ended up loving. A sort of proto-Shins meets Dan Deacon they don’t half make some sing-alongable tunes. Great lyrics, strong hooks, and a good line in facial hair means they made my summer very bouncy indeed. Merits multiple listens through fo’ damn sho. Lovely stuff.
3) Them Crooked Vultures – S/T There is no word in the English language that will strike greater fear in the hearts of a muso than ‘supergroup’; very rarely adding up to the sum of their parts they invariably tend to be fairly mediocre at best, downright offensive at worst (I’m looking at you Audioslave). So it made for a nice surprise on hearing Them Crooked Vultures to find that this is one of those rare examples where it works. Made up of John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme, I think I can put it best as being my favourite album featuring Grohl/Homme since Songs for the Deaf. Rocktacular.
Honourable mentions Bleepmeister general Dan Deacon returned with Bromst, the weird and wonderful Wild Beasts hit their stride with Two Dancers, and Birdy Nam Nam finally delivered what they’d always promised with Manual for Successful Rioting.
There you go, some stuff what Thought Bubble (me that is, Lisa tends to have wildly different tastes) thought was good over the last year, of course due to constraints of time and space I’ve missed a lot of stuff off (Adam and Joe’s weekly podcast, Terry Pratchett’s best discworld book EVER, Phonogram (had to have a comic in there somewhere), beetle boots, the list goes on) but what’s above serves as a nice selection nonetheless. I like to think. If you don’t, well then there’s not much I can do except cry into my Christmas leftovers.
We’ve got some fun stuff planned for thought bubble next year, a lot of it secret (SPOILER: Robot monkey dance troupes), but most of it just building on the same cool stuff we had this year. We’ll be back in the future (2010) to kick all this off, but until then – be excellent to each other.