For the fifth consecutive year, I kept careful track of everything I watched and read. As always, this inventory may not be of interest to anyone other than me, and you are excused if you don’t want to read it. For the rest of you, it will be like being granted access to my diary! A really boring diary that only lists names of movies, TV shows, and books!
I watched more movies this year than ever before: 430. Saints preserve us, 430! What’s especially alarming is that there were 107 days where I didn’t watch anything. All the film festivals, where you see four or five or six films a days, really add up. I added Toronto to my roster of festivals this year, too, which definitely boosted the tally.
I launched two new weekly columns at Film.com this year, Eric’s Bad Movies and Eric’s Time Capsule. The former requires me to watch awful films (but write amusing things about them), while the latter gives me an excuse to watch films that interest me that I haven’t seen before. Of the 75 new-to-me pre-2008 movies I watched this year, 42 of them were for Eric’s Bad Movies or Eric’s Time Capsule — which means I was getting paid for it. Getting paid is definitely the way to go when it comes to watching movies, especially if one of them is “Bio-Dome.”
I got on a Disney kick for a while, watching some of the classic and recent animated films, including a few (like “The Aristocats”) that I’d never actually seen before, at least not that I remembered. I went through a Hitchcock phase, too, watching (or re-watching) classics like “Vertigo,” “Notorious,” and “The 39 Steps.” I even caught a few silent films, including “Nosferatu” and “Battleship Potemkin,” both of which are required viewing for students of film history and are actually kind of fun anyway.
One of the most useful tools for me this year was Netflix, and in particular its improved functionality for letting you skip the DVDs altogether and watch movies over the Internet. Up until the end of the year, this feature wasn’t available on Macs, and I don’t like watching movies on my computer anyway. But I fell in love with a new device called Roku, which streams Netflix’s on-demand movies straight to your TV, skipping both the DVD and the computer. The Roku box costs $99, and beyond that there are no fees — as long as you have a Netflix account, you can watch as much stuff as you want, for free. Only about 10% of Netflix’s offerings are available this way (they’re adding titles as fast as they can get the copyright holders onboard), but I still found quite a few things I wanted to watch: “Rushmore,” “Team America: World Police,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Jerk,” “Young Frankenstein,” and a vast assortment of older films. The new Xbox 360 has this functionality, too, as do the TiVo HD DVR and a couple of LG and Samsung Blu-Ray players. All you need is a Netflix account and you’re set.
I haven’t upgraded to Blu-Ray yet, and probably won’t for a while. The players and discs are still unjustifiably expensive, and while the enhanced picture quality is noticeable, it’s not so great that I feel like a savage watching regular DVDs. (If the difference in quality were as significant as it was between VHS and DVD, I’d make the leap.) Furthermore, as Roku and other on-demand services flourish, it seems likely that all discs, DVD or Blu-Ray, are going to become obsolete anyway. Right now Netflix’s streaming services aren’t in high-definition, nor do they offer the bonus features that DVDs do. But once those hurdles are overcome — and you better believe the nerds are working night and day to make that happen — there will be as little reason to own a physical copy of a DVD as there is to own a CD. If the content is all digital, and can be stored (or streamed) digitally, why take up space with a shiny disc?
As I have always maintained, the best way to watch movies is with friends and/or loved ones. Even if you’re not talking during the movie (which of course you shouldn’t be, if you’re in public) it’s still rewarding to share the experience with someone. I’m lucky to have colleagues-turned-friends at the film festivals I go to, and it definitely helps prevent the endless movie-watching from becoming a slog.
Watching “The Promotion” at South By Southwest is one of my favorite memories from this year, because every member of my group of friends, myself included, thought it was pants-wettingly funny. Isn’t it great to enjoy something like that with a group? (A second viewing, by myself, confirmed that it was as funny as I’d thought the first time, by the way — it wasn’t just groupthink.) We had a great time with the teen-zombie flick “Dance of the Dead,” too — think John Hughes meets George Romero — going so far as to watch it twice during SXSW. The filmmakers had arranged with the Alamo Drafthouse to fire a cannon of confetti into the audience at a climactic moment in the film, a gimmick that never fails to delight. More movies should do this, just as more movies should punctuate their closing credits with hilarious outtakes. “United 93,” I am looking at you.
(By the way, “United 93” is the new “Schindler’s List” when you want to name a movie that is inappropriate for the context. Please update your templates accordingly.)
I have loved Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” since it came out in 2004, and fate dictated that I would watch it twice this year. The first time was while visiting friends in Houston, when we were sitting around and felt like, well, we should just watch “Anchorman.” The second time was about a month later, when Portland radio guys Cort and Fatboy were hosting a midnight screening of it. I wouldn’t have bothered with it except that they were showing an actual print from the film’s theatrical release — which meant it would be the original theatrical version, not the “unrated” DVD version, which has extra scenes and changes a few punchlines. I hadn’t seen the original cut since it was in theaters, and I must say it vexes me when films are released on DVD with bonus footage inserted without giving you the option of seeing how it went out originally. This late-night viewing also allowed me to introduce the film to a friend who had NEVER SEEN IT, if you can imagine. Sixty percent of the time, it made him laugh every time.
My 4-year-old niece got “WALL-E” on DVD for Christmas, which naturally meant she needed to watch it two days in a row. I liked this, because it meant I got to watch it two days in a row, too. How many movies are just as delightful to 4-year-olds as they are to 34-year-olds? And I wonder if she would like “Anchorman”?
Other fun movie memories of 2008: Watching “The Birdcage” on a giant inflatable screen, for free, with a friend, in Portland’s Pioneer Square one August night; watching the new “Rambo” and “Let the Right One In” with my old movie-watchin’ buddy Brett in Utah; dragging another friend to see “The Happening” on opening day, then amusing ourselves afterward by doing impressions of the stilted, mannered way all the characters speak; the moment in a serious French drama called “Mark of an Angel,” which I saw at the Toronto fest, where a little girl falls while ice-skating, slides across the ice, and hits her head on the wall, and I thought it was funny, and laughed loudly, and was the only person in the theater to do so; the astonished reaction from the packed theater in Austin when Jason Segel first went full monty in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”; noting that the two young gentlemen seated in front of me at “Pineapple Express” had obviously, shall we say, gotten into the proper spirit of things beforehand.
2008 releases that I saw and reviewed:
If you want to see the whole list, just go to the Archives and filter the date to only include “2008.”
2008 releases that I saw but did not review:
Sundance Film Festival:
“The Great Buck Howard”
“The Merry Gentleman”
“Phoebe in Wonderland”
“Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains”
Portland International Film Festival:
“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”
South By Southwest Film Festival:
“Assassination of a High School President”
“Body of War”
“Dance of the Dead” (twice)
“Nights and Weekends”
“Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie”
CineVegas Film Festival:
“Big Heart City”
“Go Go Tales”
“South of Heaven”
Toronto International Film Festival:
“The Burning Plain”
“Edison & Leo”
“The Mark of an Angel”
“Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs” (direct-to-DVD)
“Futurama: Bender’s Big Score” (direct-to-DVD)
“The Sinking of Santa Isabel”
“Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin & Censorship” (TV movie)
“Spielberg on Spielberg” (TV movie)
2008 releases that I watched twice:
“The Dark Knight”
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
“Rachel Getting Married”
“Son of Rambow”*
“Synecdoche, New York”
*First viewing was in 2007
Pre-2008 releases that I had seen before, and reviewed, that I re-watched this year:
“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (twice)
“Batman & Robin”
“The Brothers Solomon”
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
“Home on the Range”
“The Royal Tenenbaums”
“Team America: World Police”
Pre-2008 releases that I had seen before but did not review, that I re-watched this year:
“Beast of Yucca Flats”*
“The Deadly Bees”*
“The Hudsucker Proxy”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
“The Phantom Planet”*
“Planes, Trains & Automobiles”
“The Projected Man”*
“Raiders of the Lost Ark”
“The Silence of the Lambs”
“Speed 2: Cruise Control”
“Umbrellas of Cherbourg”
*Watched as part of a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode
Pre-2008 releases that I saw for the first time this year:
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
“The 39 Steps”
“The Adventures of Pluto Nash”
“The African Queen”
“Aguirre, the Wrath of God”
“Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend”
“The Beautician and the Beast”
“Beavis and Butt-Head Do America”
“Beverly Hills Cop”
“The Big Lebowski”
“Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)
“The Delta Force”
“Ernest Saves Christmas”
“Fistful of Dollars”
“From Here to Eternity”
“Funny Games” (1998)
“High School Musical” (TV movie)
“High School Musical 2” (TV movie)
“Hollywood After Dark”
“Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf”
“I Know What You Did Last Summer”
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (I know!)
“Jack Frost” (1998)
“Jaws: The Revenge”
“Julius Caesar” (1953)
“Killers from Space”
“Kull the Conqueror”
“The Last Picture Show”
“Leaving Las Vegas”
“Mac and Me”
“The Man Who Knew Too Much”
“Masters of the Universe”
“Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”
“Mother of Tears”
“My Fair Lady”
“Over the Top”
“The Pink Panther”
“The Plow That Broke the Plains”
“Silent Night Deadly Night”
“Super Mario Bros.”
“Tarzan, the Ape Man”
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre”
My TV watching trends look like the economy: steadily diminishing each of the last few years, and totally bottoming out in 2008. I watched only 281 hours of TV all year, which with TiVo-faciliated commercial-skipping amounts to only about 210 hours of viewing time. That’s barely half an hour in front of the tube per day. In the entire month of June I watched only TEN HOURS of television. Can you imagine?
I did cram a lot in near the end of the year, primarily due to obsessive-compulsiveness. I made the switch to HDTV, which required a new DirecTV satellite and DVR — which meant I really needed to watch everything still sitting on my old DVR. For the first two months that I had HDTV, I mostly ignored it (except for key, must-watch-every-week programs) in favor of watching the old, non-HD shows. I’m pleased to say I finally polished off that old DVR’s stockpile in mid-December, so now I am TRULY in the high-definition world.
Shows I watched regularly (at least 6 episodes) in 2008:
“Aliens in America”
“Friday Night Lights”
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
“Law & Order”
“Law & Order: SVU”
“Life on Mars”
“Saturday Night Live”
“Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job”
“The Whitest Kids U Know”
1. “30 Rock” (NBC). I fancy myself something of a wordsmith, and I marvel at the efficiency and compactness of these brilliant, 21-minute scripts. They’re packed!
2. “The Shield” (FX). May it rest in peace. The final season, right up to the jaw-dropping (and satisfying!) finale, was some of the most intense TV I’ve ever seen.
3. “Mad Men” (AMC). Missed it the first time around, so I caught Season 1 on DVD in time to watch Season 2 as it unfolded. What a well-written, well-acted, well-produced drama. Everything you’ve been hearing is true.
4. “Lost” (ABC). “Lost” was on its game this year! Giving themselves a finish line to work toward really lit those writers on fire.
5. “Friday Night Lights” (DirecTV; soon to be repeated on NBC). Decent, noble characters engaged in the dramas of life have seldom been as engrossing and relatable as these folks are. This show is good for your heart.
Hey, what do you know? My TV watching is down, but my reading is up! I read 30 novels this year, helped somewhat by joining a book club that made me read a few I never ever would have finished otherwise. Here’s what I read (links go to Amazon), with titles I particularly recommend starred.
“All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well,” by Tod Wodicka. I think I liked the title more than anything, though the book was OK, too. It’s about a goofy man who’s obsessed with medieval reenactments and lives his life that way, to the detriment of, well, everything else in his life.
**“An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England,” by Brock Clarke. A terrifically funny novel about a hapless young man who accidentally burned down the historic Emily Dickinson house as a teenager, went to prison, and is just now getting out … only to discover that other writers’ homes are being burned down, too, and naturally he’s the prime suspect.
**“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party,” by M.T. Anderson. This might be my favorite of the year. It’s about a young slave boy in Colonial Boston who’s given a top-notch education in literature and language as part of a strange experiment to see if Africans are as intelligent as Europeans. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary War is beginning, and Octavian must figure out where his best chances at true freedom lie. It’s written as if by Octavian himself, in erudite 18th-century vocabulary, which delights me. For some reason it’s classified as “young adult” fiction, but ignore that.
“Atomic Lobster,” by Tim Dorsey. One of those South Florida crime capers with a million characters whose lives all wind up intersecting in hilarious ways. Moderately amusing.
“Be Near Me,” by Andrew O’Hagan. A fairly solid drama about a middle-aged Scottish priest recounting his youthful vigor as compared to his quiet life now, which is interrupted by a pair of delinquent teenagers in his parish.
**“The Book Thief,” by Markus Zusak. Oh, what a poetic and touching novel this is! It’s set in Germany in World War II, and focuses not on the Nazis or the Allies but on a family of regular ol’ Germans, consisting of an orphaned girl and her foster parents. The story is narrated by Death himself, which is an interesting twist, and the goodness and humanity of the tale are heartbreaking.
“Boomsday,” by Christopher Buckley. The author (son of William F. Buckley) is conservative, but ain’t anybody getting off easy in this funny and alarmingly plausible political satire. It’s about a young woman who, as a means of solving the Social Security crisis, satirically suggests the government start paying people to kill themselves when they turn 65, only to have her proposal gain traction as a legitimate option.
“Bowl of Cherries,” by Millard Kaufman. I mostly enjoyed this comi-tragic novel about a teenage prodigy who gets mixed up with a dotty Egyptologist doing experiments in his crumbling mansion, where the prodigy falls in love with the professor’s daughter.
**“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz. This sucker won the Pulitzer, and it’s hard to disagree. It’s about a few generations of a Dominican-American family now living in New Jersey, focusing on the title character, a fat nerd with a big heart. The narrator’s voice is clear and original, telling a story full of humor and heartbreak in an unforgettably stylish way.
“Extra Large Medium,” by Helen Slavin. I’m pretty sure she thought of the title first, then the story. It’s about a woman who sees dead people and has to help them sort out their unfinished business. Could have been a terrific story, but everyone at the book club agreed it’s badly written and desperately in need of an editor. Bleh.
**“Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague,” by Brandon Mull. Part three in this young adult fantasy series (Harry Potter comparisons are inevitable) is just as fun as the last two. If you haven’t been following along, you should start.
**“Gentlemen of the Road,” by Michael Chabon. My favorite author cranked out this little gem, a 10th-century adventure story about a couple of ne’er-do-wells galloping through the Middle East. The prose is intricately written — you gotta pay attention to Chabon’s long, grammatically impeccable sentences — but it’s worth it, even for an insignificant lark of a story like this one.
“The Girls,” by Lori Lansens. Siamese twins! In Canada!
“Hairstyles of the Damned,” by Joe Meno. I really enjoyed Meno’s “The Boy Detective Fails” but was rather disappointed in this one, a fairly pedestrian comic novel about misfit teenagers that too closely resembles all the other comic novels about misfit teenagers.
“Heart Sick,” by Chelsea Cain. It’s set in Portland! And the author lives here! I know her! Well, I met her. Her husband is a local film critic. Anyway, now I’m afraid of her, having seen the dark depths of her imagination in this creepy “Silence of the Lambs”-ish novel about a cop seeking tips on a new serial killer from the now-imprisoned serial killer who once tortured him. One of the victims gets abducted right down the street from my apartment! Which is totally plausible, by the way. I’ve abducted many a teenage girl there myself.
**“I Love You, Beth Cooper,” by Larry Doyle. A loving homage to the cheesy teen comedies of the 1980s. Denis Cooverman is a nerdy high school valedictorian who blurts out the title declaration during his graduation speech. The problem: Beth Cooper is the most popular girl in school, and she barely knows who Denis Cooverman is. The book covers the events of graduation night as Denis and his movie-geek best friend Rich interact with Beth, her friends, her angry coke-head boyfriend, and various other classmates. The details of the story are implausible, and some of the jokes are sitcom-ish. But I laughed out loud many, many times while I read the book, particularly in response to Doyle’s droll descriptions of high school angst and the absurdity of the teenage caste system.
“The Invention of Everything Else,” by Samantha Hunt. This was another book club selection, about scientist Nikola Tesla’s final days in New York City. Many of the historical facts are accurate, while Tesla mingles with fictional characters like a hotel maid whose crazy father is trying to invent a time machine. A pretty good read, overall, addressing the conflicts between fantasy, science, and reality.
**“Last One In,” by Nicholas Kulish. This would make a good companion piece to HBO’s excellent “Generation Kill” miniseries. The book is fictional, but the author drew on his real experiences as a journalist embedded with the U.S. military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq to tell this engrossing, sometimes satirical story. It’s about a shallow gossip columnist who gets sent to Iraq with a Marine convoy; his character arc is standard (he learns what’s really important in life), and Kulish’s occasional dips into “Catch-22”-style wartime satire don’t mesh with the rest of the book’s more earnest tone. But his believable descriptions of Marine culture and the daily routine of waiting in the desert for marching orders are compelling, and his vivid, humane treatment of the characters will give you a new appreciation for the military and perhaps give clarity to the often-vague idea of “supporting the troops.”
“The Midnight Choir,” by Gene Kerrigan. A hard-boiled Irish police procedural novel with some shocking plot twists and vivid characters. Very readable.
**“On Chesil Beach,” by Ian McEwan. Somehow McEwan manages to write an entire novella (albeit a slim one) based primarily on the thoughts and memories of a newlywed couple on their wedding night. Events that take only a few seconds to transpire can be packed with pages and pages of meaning, and McEwan describes them expertly and poetically.
“Out Stealing Horses,” by Per Patterson. I do believe this was the book club’s least favorite selection of the year, a Norwegian novel about an old man recalling his childhood.
**“Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey,” by Chuck Palahniuk. This guy has so many insane ideas, and I love him. This time, it’s about a guy who gets off on being bitten by poisonous creatures, and there’s a rabies epidemic, and there’s a fad called “party crashing” where cars smash into each other, and somehow time travel is involved. Palahniuk lives in Portland, too, and I’m also afraid of him.
**“Slaughterhouse-Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut. I finally got around to reading the novel I was assigned in 12th grade. Me likey.
“Snuff,” by Chuck Palahniuk. More Palahniuk, though this one didn’t grab me as much as “Rant” did. It’s about an aging porn star who wants to break the world record for most partners in one film. It’s pretty filthy, as you might imagine, and it lacks some of the narrative deftness of Palahniuk’s other stuff.
**“The Testament of Gideon Mack,” by James Robertson. An enthralling account of religious faith and doubt, about a disbelieving Scottish minister who changes his tune after he meets the Devil — the actual, honest-to-goodness Devil.
“Travel Writing,” by Peter Ferry. This one, about a writer who becomes obsessed with a woman after he witnesses her car-crash death, never really grabbed me. Too many diversions from what I thought were the more interesting elements of the story.
**“Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Yep, the graphic novel. I hadn’t read it before, and there’s (hopefully) a movie coming out. Turns out it’s pretty fantastic stuff. I can see why so many people, even non-nerds, love it.