Best Of 2008


another decent year of pop culture for me, feels like there's been lots of good stuff to get into this year...


The Wire (FX) - season five bowed out in great form. Still the greatest.

Mad Men (BBC4) - convincing, slowburn drama, with fascinating take on early 60s life.

Breaking Bad (FX) Engrossing suburban drug-dealing tension.

Battlestar Galactica (Sky1) - trippy, political, enigmantic, moving sci-fi with some great space battles thrown in for good measure. Don't want it to end, but I do want to find out where they're going with it.

30 Rock (Five) - made even better by Tina Fey getting rid of Sarah Palin. 

Summer Heights High (BBC3) - don't want to be rude, but seriously, did you miss this? That's so random.

Criminal Justice (BBC1) - five nights of proper drama.


Waltz With Bashir - brilliantly thoughtful animation, covering memory, loss and the intensity of war.

Man On Wire - beautifully simple doc about a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. High tension line, indeed.

Gomorrah - brutal Italian mob chaos. 

In Search Of A Midnight Kiss - lo-fi indie romance

also enjoyed: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, In Bruges, No Country For Old Men


TV On The Radio - Dear Science an album that sounds like it could only have been made in 2008.

Black Mountain - In The Future retro maybe, but totally heavy and pretty essential

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes great debut.

Bon Iver - For Emma - as was this.

Santogold - Santogold (and Top Ranking, the Diplo-Dub) - and this!

also enjoyed: Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend, Grace Jones - Hurricane, Catfish Haven - Devastator


Black Mountain - The Scala (great just after breakfast at Glastonbury too)

Jay-Z - Glastonbury a proper big moment. His cover of Wonderwall was deft, subtle and hilarious all at the same time.

Grace Jones - Royal Festival Hall disco from another dimension. Total legend.

Justice - Somerset House huge, gut-shaking digital rock, great to see in a classic setting.

Bjork - Hammersmith Apollo - still one of the best live acts around.

Also enjoyed: Matthew Herbert Big Band - Royal Festival Hall, Radiohead - Victoria Park


18th Dec 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Wallace And Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death

(dir. Nick Park)


Wallace and Gromit return in a "classic who-doughnut mystery" just in time for Christmas. If you're a fan of the Aardman pun-filled charm, there's plenty to enjoy in this half-hour outing, in which we find our cheese and tea-loving heroes running a bakery (Top Bun) with all their usual Heath Robinson-style robotic chaos. 

Things are all going fine until Wallace falls for the charms of Piella Bakewell, a former star of the Bake-O-Lite bread commercials and her poodle Fluffles. Will she bring too much of her womanly touch to the mill? Will Fluffles send Gromit running to the doghouse? And why isn't Wallace more worried about the "cereal killer" who's been attacking all the local bakers in the area?

Full of lots of daft touches, visual gags and Hitchcockian nods, it's another success from Aardman - proper family entertainment that doesn't dumb down for kids or spend too much time being overly sly for grownups. Just wish it didn't take so long for them to knock these films out. Coronation Street's Sally Lindsay joins Peter Sallis on voice duties.


4th Dec 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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"Ystad - the Texas of Sweden..."

Kenneth Branagh stars in the first of three feature-length versions of Henning Mankell's best-selling detective novels. If (like us) you're not familiar with the series, then you're in something of a minority - well in the rest of Europe anyhow, where they've sold around 25 million copies. There's even a Wallander Tour in the real town of Ystad.

Initially it's a pretty unusual set-up. We're in Sweden, but everyone's speaking English. They don't even bother with anything like that bit at the start of The Hunt For Red October where they're talking in Russian for about a minute before zooming in and then letting Sean Connery go back to Scottish for the rest of the film. 

Then, until someone pulls out a mobile, you could be forgiven for thinking it was set in the 1950s - there's a kind of otherworldly, timeless quality to the country setting - it looks like a modern European country, but because Sweden's been so stylish for so long, it's hard to place when it actually is. Even the police station looks like a *Wallpaper shoot. 

But after the first ten minutes or so, you get used to the environment, and don't really notice until you're introduced to another Lars or Nyberg etc. The occasional nods to recent Swedish history - immigration, permissiveness, politics etc - add another dimension to an intelligent, well-paced story. No Ikea or meatballs though. 

The first in the trilogy running on BBC1 over three Sunday nights (and then out on DVD after), Sidetracked, introduces Kurt Wallander - divorced, living alone, trying to get on with his dad and daughter - no quirky character traits like Monk or Life here - just the stuff of life, played out realistically. That's not to suggest that it's boring, or soapy - far from it - just that it's played in the realm of the real as much as possible, which is what makes it work so well (even when it's a gruesome case involving scalping, three dead men in apparently unrelated cases, and a young woman who sets herself on fire).

For all the cliches about Branagh being the ultimate luvvie you kind of forget sometimes what got him that reputation in the first place: he is a really great actor. With Wallander he seems to have finally found the perfect character to fit his style.

It's a film that's moving, exciting, dark and occasionally heartbreaking - and for once we're presented with a policeman who's not jaded by the sight of another dead body, but rather takes it totally to heart, finding it almost impossible to understand how a human could kill another human. 

Branagh is joined by David Warner as his dad (great casting, and nice to see the Tron/Company Of Wolves star given such a meaty role); Sarah Smart as his assistant (she was the hanger-on woman in the excellent Five Days last year) and there's a small role for Skins generation one star Nicholas Hoult in the first episode.

As a sidenote, Wallander was shot using the new Red digital cameras - and it looks great, like digital has finally evolved to find its own aesthetic, in the same way that 35mm or Super8 have their own distinct looks.

Sidetracked is followed by Firewall and One Step Behind if you're familiar with the series - if they're as good as the first, this is a series that should run and run (as long as they can get Branagh back to TV after Thor). 


21st Nov 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Episode One


Spooky atmospherics with Martin Shaw as a Catholic exorcist, fighting off a series of angry demons and the people they've possessed.

The first episode crams in a visit to the Vatican, a repressed novice priest who was once cured of leprosy by Mother Theresa and a dad whose Satanic babbling isn't scoring him too many points on the parenting front. 

Sounds like it's been toned down from the original full-on version featuring a man's skin being ripped off his body in a gay sauna thanks to the kind intervention of the Sunday Express - can't have helped that it's being broadcast so soon after the nonsense of Sachsgate or whatever we're calling it. Which in a way is probably a sign that it's the sort of thing you might enjoy if you're not an Express reader.

With this and Dead Set, looks like horror's back on primetime TV - BBC3's vampire flatshare Being Human is coming in 2009 as well...


9th Nov 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Criminal Justice

(dir. Otto Bathurst, Luke Watson)


Excellent thriller running over five consecutive nights on BBC1 (Mon 30 Jun - Fri 4 Jul) that manages to combine elements of prison, police and the legal system to bring a 360 sense of what it's like to be thrust into a murder trial. 

Ben Whishaw (Perfume, Nathan Barley) wakes up after a wild night to find there's blood on his hands (literally), panics, and then finds himself the prime suspect in a gory murder. 

What's great here is that each episode shows the experience from as many different perspectives and in as many arenas as possible. We get the full-on Oz-like terror of suddenly finding yourself in a British prison, not knowing who to trust or make deals with. There's the confusion of being grilled by the police while your brief is advising you to offer "no comment" to everything, even though you just want to explain yourself. There's the frustration of the arcane legal system, making deals behind the scenes, playing a dangerous game of oneupmanship in court. The tension of his parents who don't quite know what to believe. The desperate loneliness of a suspect who can't even fully trust himself because he simply can't remember what happened.

The top-notch cast includes Pete Postlethwaite, David Harewood, Bill Paterson, Con O'Neill and Lindsay Duncan.

Not sure how it's going to do in this format - five straight nights is probably no more commitment than catching Big Brother every night, but it's worth setting the Sky+ for or iPlayering (is that a verb yet?) it all - you shouldn't miss any of this. 


27th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Cultcha innit

The Culture Show's coming back soon in the new Later w Jools slot on BBC2; a short ep on Tuesdays and the longer remix on Fridays. BBC1's Imagine is back on next week w features on Doris Lessing, Wernor Herzog and the mighty Haruki Murakami


19th May 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

friday night with kiefer

jack bauer's taking time out to talk to jonathan ross march 5, 10.35pm, bbc1


26th Apr 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet


mark e smith to read the football scores on bbc1…


sparta fc!



25th Oct 2005 - Add Comment - Tweet