Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: Books

I had set a goal to read at least one book a month this year, and I managed it. Barely. Next year I want to read at least that many, hopefully more.

Favorite Book: The Kid by Dan Savage
1. The Kid by Dan Savage (Plume)
2. The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family (Dan Savage)
3. The Road (Vintage Books)
4. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life (Scribner)
5. The Great Derangement (Matt Taibbi)
6. A Feast For Crows (George R.R. Martin)
7. The Switch (HarperTorch)
8. Savage Season (Black Lizard)
9. Inside Straight HC (George R.R. Martin)
10. Dreams of My Father (Barack Obama)
11. Patriot Acts (Bantam)
12. Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me (Grand Central)
13. I Am America: And So Can You! (Warner Books)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009: Movies

Top 10 Movies of 2009
1. Inglourious Basterds
2. Up
3. Sherlock Holmes
4. Zombieland
5. Where The Wild Things Are
6. District 9
7. The Hangover
8. (500) Days of Summer
9. Avatar
10. Watchmen

I saw only a dozen new movies in the theater this year: Up, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Where The Wild Things Are, Public Enemies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Watchmen, Star Trek, Zombieland, Avatar and Sherlock Holmes. I thought two of them were terrible (although I suspected one of them was going to be going in), I was disappointed by one of them (Star Trek... I know, I know! Shut up!) and I was reasonably happy with the rest. I even liked Watchmen (I know, I know! Shut up!) I took a pass on G.I. Joe and Transformers 2, and I think my new "If you know it's going to be a shitty blockbuster, even if it's based on something you have nostalgic love for, take a pass" philosophy will serve me well going forward.

As far as favorite movie of the year, though, it's easy to get down to the top two. District 9 and Where The Wild Things Are were both very good, but each had its issues that keep it from being "Best Of" material. Zombieland was great, but in the end, it's really not much more than an American Shaun of the Dead. The top two, though? That's a really tough choice. It's between Up, another masterpiece by Pixar, and Inglourious Basterds, another fun, violent, self-indulgent flick from Tarantino. I know that the unanimous choice there would be Up, as some folks outright disliked Basterds or hate Tarantino, but the only one I saw twice in the theater was Inglourious Basterds, so I think I've gotta give that one the nod.

I also saw a bunch of older movies for the first time this year. I really enjoyed The Scottish werewolves vs. soldiers movie Dog Soldiers, the Oscar-bait tale of life in Indian slums Slumdog Millionaire, the dumb comedy Tropic Thunder, the Beatles tribute Across The Universe, the Spanish zombie flick [REC] (and it's American remake, Quarantine), the suspense thriller Zodiac (best Fincher movie since Fight Club) the strange con man movie The Brothers Bloom and the "magicians are bastards" The Prestige.

I loved Big Lebowksi, which I finally saw, and I'm glad I held out for the big screen. Saw it at the Paramount here in Austin, and it has gone from "I really need to see that" to "one of my favorite movies" with just one viewing. Other movies I saw that had their moments but weren't quite all there were Choke and The Bank Job. Oh, and I saw Gran Torino and found it vastly overrated.

Best of 2009: TV

Top 20 TV Shows in 2010
1. Lost Season Five (ABC)
2. Breaking Bad Season Two (AMC)
3. Chuck Season Two (NBC)
4. Modern Family Season One (ABC)
5. Burn Notice Season Two & Three (USA)
6. Flight of the Conchords Season Two (HBO)
7. Spectacular Spider-Man Season Two (DXD)
8. Community Season One (NBC)
9. The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season Two (FOX)
10. Torchwood: Children of Earth (BBC)
11. The Office Season Five & Six (NBC)
12. Batman The Brave and the Bold Season One (TOON)
13. Better Off Ted Season One (ABC)
14. Leverage Season Two (TNT)
15. Party Down Season One (STARZ)
16. 30 Rock Season Three & Four (NBC)
17. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season Five (F/X)
18. Weeds Season Four (SHO)
19. Parks & Recreation Season Two (NBC)
20. Better Off Ted Season One (CBS)

Favorite Hour-Long: Lost (ABC)
There are four strong contenders in this category: Chuck, Breaking Bad and Lost, with Burn Notice as a dark horse candidate. And while the performances and sheer gutsiness of Breaking Bad tempts me, my favorite hour-long, and honestly my favorite thing on TV, is Lost. It's ambitious, but shows signs of the showrunners knowing that they need to have a satisfying ending for that ambition to mean anything. In contrast to Battlestar Galactica, which after that bullshit finale, I wish I could un-watch. It's got some of the best writing on television, elevated well above the usual quality we get in genre TV into award-worthy territory. The writers are tackling complex concepts like time travel and quantum physics (OK, magic) in a way that makes it approachable but not dumbed-down, and the characters are so compelling that you care as much about their small stories as you do the big mythology. Add in one of the best casts of actors on TV and just generally exquisite production values, not to mention that they've done this for five seasons now and aside from some arguable hiccups in the middle seasons, it's never been anything less than great, and I believe Lost will be one of those "Best of TV" shows for a long, long time.

Unless they fuck up the ending. Then I take it all back and give the nod to Breaking Bad.

I also really like Dexter, although ever since season two, it's settled into something of diminishing returns for me, and I really liked Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but it's cancellation keeps it from nudging up beyond "what could have been" territory, even though I'll definitely re-watch both seasons on DVD from time to time, as it's a solid offering, even with it's non-ending ending. Dollhouse might have made it on if every episode was like "Man on the Street" or "Epitath One" but most of it was disappointing, and I remain somewhat bitter that it got to stick around despite its downward spiral when Sarah Connor didn't, even though it was on a creative upswing.

Oh, and there's Leverage, which is just a ton of fun, and White Collar, which is usually decent and may someday be as good as Leverage if it grows some balls and learns how to better utilize its great cast.

Best of 2009: Comics

Top 20 Comics of the Year:
1. Chew
2. Incognito/Criminal: The Sinners
3. The Umbrella Academy Dallas
4. BPRD Black Goddess
5. Hellboy The Wild Hunt
6. Beasts of Burden
7. Usagi Yojimbo
8. Incredible Hercules
9. Batman and Robin
10. The Unwritten
11. Sweet Tooth
12. The Muppet Show
13. GI Joe Cobra
14. BPRD 1947
15. The Unknown
16. Nova
17. Guardians of the Galaxy
18. Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye
19. Agents of Atlas
20. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man

Top 20 Graphic Novels of the Year:
1. Parker: The Hunter (IDW)
2. Rocketeer Deluxe Edition (IDW)
3. Bloom County Complete Library Volume 1 (IDW)
4. Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys, Volume 1-5 (Viz)
5. Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Volume 1-6 (Viz)
6. Amulet Book 2 (Scholastic)
7. Scott Pilgrim Vol 5 (Oni)
8. Johnny Hiro (Adhouse)
9. Mouse Guard Winter 1152 HC (Archaia)
10. The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack (Dark Horse)
11. Hellboy Library Edition Volume 2-3 HC (Dark Horse)
12. Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus (Marvel)
13. Criminal Deluxe Edition (Marvel)
14. Starman Omnibus Vol 2-3 (DC)
15. Empowered, Vol. 5 (Dark Horse)
16. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon)
17. RASL Vol 1: The Drift (Cartoon Books)
18. Pixu: The Mark of Evil (Dark Horse)
19. TMNT Collected Book Vol. 1 (Mirage)
20. Tiny Titans Vol. 1-2 (DC)

Favorite New Comic Of The Year: Chew
At the moment, my "buzz book" is Andy Diggle's run on Daredevil, which at three full issues into its run, is looking like a further evolution of the good work done on the book by Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. And while I've lost interest in the past few months, early on this year I was quite into Mike Carey's work on X-Men Legacy. In similar "not new number one but new creative team" books there's Marvel Adventures Spider-Man by Paul Tobin and several different artists, which synthesizes some of the best aspects of the Spectacular Spider-Man TV show, Ultimate Spider-Man and Tobin's own touches to become easily the best Spider-Man book on the shelves. Then there's the new Morrison Batman & Robin, which hasn't been perfect but has been damn good, and the Vertigo resurgence with the two must-read books, The Unwritten and Sweet Tooth. Those two in particular were real front-runners for this category. And Stumptown had a great debut, but with only two issues released in 2009, it's too early to call it the best new book of the year.

But the book with the most novel premise, not to mention providing a consistently excellent read with each issue, is Chew. John Layman's been toiling in the trenches for some time now, turning out quirky gems like Army of Darkness vs. Marvel Zombies and Puffed, but his new creator-owned Image series is far and away the best thing he's written. It's funny and strange on the surface, but there's plenty of world-building, plot detail and character development to go with it's "That is such a strange concept, I've got to read it" hook. And artist Rob Guillory has a fresh look that instantly grabs the eye, not to mention storytelling chops rarely seen in a debut. Together, these two put together the best new comic of the year.

Favorite Ongoing Series: Incredible Hercules
Pretty much everything in the ongoing series category is Marvel, with two exceptions. RASL, by Cartoon Books, is a notable exception. It ranks lowest on my list, however, not because of the quality but because of the frequency. Jeff Smith was putting out biggie-sized issues on a quarterly basis, and I was happy with that, it seemed to be a schedule he could meet. He announced this year that he was going to put out smaller issues, but bimonthly, and I knew that probably wasn't a great idea, and indeed, the flow of issues has pretty much stopped. This is a constant frustration for me as a fan and a retailer, as it makes it really hard to sell indie series, when so many of them disappear or become even more inconsistent in their scheduling, and it hurts the ability of new indies to sell as well. Folks fear getting burned again, and I can't really blame them.

Deep breath. That rant aside, the flipside of that is my other non-Marvel pick for ongoing series, Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. Consistently on schedule, consistently excellent.

My other favorite series contenders are Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova and Agents of Atlas, and of course my winner, Incredible Hercules. None of them register very high on the Top 100, sadly.

Favorite Mini-Series: Incognito
1. Incognito
2. Criminal: The Sinners
3. The Umbrella Academy Dallas
4. BPRD Black Goddess
5. Hellboy The Wild Hunt
6. Beasts of Burden
7. The Muppet Show
8. GI Joe Cobra
9. BPRD 1947
10. The Unknown
11. Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye
12. New Avengers: Reunion (Marvel)
13. Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter (Marvel)
14. The Incredibles Family Matters (Boom!)
15. War of Kings (Marvel)
16. Atomic Robo Beyond the Shadow of Time (Red 5)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Neglected Blog

Huh. There are some cobwebs around here, aren't there?

Most of my blogging time has moved over to Facebook and Twitter, and the rest of it? That's gone to my increasingly busy schedule. For example, here's this week:

Sunday - Potluck/gift exchange with friends
Monday - Dinner with family, late showing of Avatar
Tuesday - Lunch with family at Torchy's (?), work
Wednesday - Insanely busy last new comics day of the year
Thursday - Hopefully insanely busy Christmas Eve at the store, then Christmas Eve with the family
Friday - Christmas Day and all that entails
Saturday - Work day, catching up on missing Friday work

And that's just the big stuff, it doesn't count all the smaller stuff. And it seems like every week has been like this for months. So... blogging probably won't get any more frequent here, but I'm going to try to at least have a Best of 2009 post ready for January, I've been working on that one in my copious free time.