03. World War Z by Max Brooks
This was one of those books that totally took me by surprise because I wasn't aware of what it was actually about (aside from a zombie war), and thus wasn't expecting too much of it. The basic concept is that it is the oral history of a zombie war, with various survivors telling their stories to an interviewer. This basically means that it's like an anthology of short stories with a common theme, but that doesn't do World War Z justice, because *every* story is utterly compelling, from a soldier's tale to the story of a family fleeing to the hills. Apparently they're going to make a movie of it, but I'm not quite sure how they'll accomplish this without taking away the main reason of why this book is so good; an anthology series like The Twilight Zone would work better, I think. Either way, if you like slightly scary, utterly brilliant zombie stories put this at the top of your reading list.
02. The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen
This is, without a doubt the funniest and most vile book I've ever read. It's about an unnamed narrator and his troubled love life; well, 'love life' is perhaps a little bit too twee - it's just about how he f**ks his way around L.A. but does everything in his power not to get dragged into a serious relationship. It's incredibly graphic, so if scenes of hardcore sexiness aren't your thing, give it a miss (or not, if you're feeling adventurous). If you're less delicate, though, give this a whirl because it's an extremely funny, easy read; I went through it in a weekend, and totally wanted to start reading it again - it's that good. I can't wait to see what Chad Kultgen writes next.
01. Love and Rockets (new compact editions) by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez
OK, I know I harp on about Love and Rockets *all the time*, but these stories deserve every bit of praise that is directed at them. This year I've had the pleasure of throwing myself completely and utterly into the Los Bros Hernandez universe and there is absolutely no better place to be for anyone looking for the very best comic book tales in print. I've said it before and I'll say it again - these stories, Jaime's Locas tales and Gilbert's Palomar stories, are amazing. And because of these beautifully-packaged new compact editions I've now got the chance to collect every single Love and Rockets story from the start. This year I've read Jaime's Maggie the Mechanic and Girl from Hoppers, and Gilbert's Heartbreak Soup and Human Diastrophism, and I've got the next two, Perla la Loca and Beyond Palomar sitting beside my bed just waiting to be read early in the new year. Why are they so good? Engaging characters that age and grow as time passes, stunning storylines that literally leave you breathless, and simply gorgeous artwork. The end result is always nothing less than incredible.
(Honourable mentions go to My Dead Girlfriend which was beautifully drawn and highly entertaining; Sidescrollers which was just good fun; and Fantagraphics Books' ongoing Peanuts collections which continue to be some of the most beautiful books I've ever bought, and are full of Charles Schultz's classic comic strips)
03. Into the Wild
Hated the first 20 minutes of this film, loved every single minute of it thereafter. An absolutely beautiful film. It's heartwrenching, but never dwells in melancholy, and despite the ending you come away feeling uplifted in some strange way; it's inspiring. There's amazing performances throughout, and Sean Penn directs wonderfully. This is a fitting tribute to Christopher McCandless, and deserving of many, many awards. Beautiful soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, too.
Oh god, this was just awesome. I had every reason to despise this film - pretty much every other summer blockbuster had disappointed me, and I'm not a fan of Michael Bay films. Against all the odds, though, I *loved* Transformers. OK, there's no life-affirming message to it, it's simply a highly-entertaining action film that ticked all the right boxes. And it was funny, too; who'd a thunk-it? I watched it again on DVD on Christmas Day - it stands up to repeat viewings, and even Sparky Ma thought it was aces!
A brilliant, brilliant exploration of the Zodiac killer and the men who dedicated their lives to an ultimately futile attempt to bring him to justice. This is a long film, but it engages the viewer all the way through, drawing them into the mystery so that, eventually, you find yourself also trying to determine who the killer was rather than just watching events unfold on the screen. This also looked amazing - from the vintage studio logos at the beginning, to the level of detail in recreating the late 60s and early 70s. I'm a big fan of David Fincher films, and this is right up there among his best. The book scared the tits off me, though.
(Honourable mentions go to Sunshine, which I thought was a brilliant, intelligently-written science-fiction film, although no one else seems to agree with me; and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford which was a bleak and compelling epic Western that I loved so much I saw it twice)
03. Family Guy
Oh Family Guy, how I love you! When this show first started back in the late 90s I really didn't like it. I didn't think it was funny, and above all else, it wasn't The Simpsons. How times change; I now worship Family Guy as the hilariously vile smut-fest it truly is. From Peter's inane shenanigans week-after-week, to the odd-couple partnership of Stewie and Brian, and the surreal, often lengthy asides, Family Guy is without a doubt my favourite animated series. I can't wait for the Star Wars parody, Blue Harvest, to come out on DVD next month.
02. Boston Legal
This show is genius. One moment it's intensely serious, the next Denny Crane is dressed as a pink flamingo or smoking a cigar in his ear. The second season began with a couple of minor new characters who, within about 12 episodes had all disappeared without trace and without explanation; I'd complain if this happened in any other series, but in Boston Legal no one gives two-hoots because the Spader-Shatner-Bergen trio is what this show is all about, and together they are incredible. This is one of those shows I could watch all day, and with the third season coming out on DVD soon, I probably will. Oh, and it has Betty White as a little old lady who commits murder then goes on a crime spree. Brilliant.
01. The OC
How could this not be the winner? You all know how much I love this show, and the fourth and final series was The OC at its very best. The first few episodes of the season were quite dark as they cleared up the fallout from Marissa's death at the end of Season Three (she did leave a bit of a smear on the road), but after that it was quality laughs and good times all the way, from Autumn Reeser's Taylor Townsend becoming a series regular, to hijinks with a "slutty alien," and even an alt-universe episode. And despite the fact that it ended way before its time, The OC actually came to a brilliant resolution; I think Star Trek: The Next Generation is the only other series I can think of that ended in such a complete way, tying up old storylines, and leaving the viewer with a sense of satisfaction that the story they had been watching for several years was actually done and dusted; in fact, it was done so well that I didn't sit there hankering after a theoretical fifth season or reunion movie while the credits rolled. We salute you, OC, and look forward to Josh Schwartz's Chuck and Gossip Girl!
(Honourable mentions go to Smallville, which is still good fun even when it is getting wrapped up in layers of its own continuity, but was perhaps most notable for the arrival of Green Arrow in a recurring role during the first half of Season Six that just *begs* for a spin-off series; and Battlestar Galactica which admittedly sagged a bit towards the end of the third season, but is still head and shoulders above all other sci-fi shows)
03. Satellite Party
Having arrived at the Mean Fiddler with relatively low expectations for this gig, I was absolutely blown away by how good Perry Farrell's new band were. This was a quality evening of awesome rock, with Satellite Party's new songs standing proud alongside the best of Jane's Addiction's back catalogue, and Perry proving once and for all that he is one of the best frontmen out there. It was a privilege to see him perform in such a small venue, and a memory I'll treasure for a long time.
How this man performed for hours on end every night for 21 nights I will never know, but he did, and it was absolutely awesome. An amazing stage designed like Prince's symbol (in the round, no less!), a simply brilliant band, and one of the best rock performers I've ever seen resulted in one of the best gigs I've ever been to. He played pretty much everything I could've wanted him to, culminating in a beautiful rendition of Purple Rain, and a raucous version of Guitar, a song that proves he's still an amazing songwriter (as if it were ever in doubt). If you didn't get to see Prince perform at the O2, do whatever you have to in order to make sure you see him next time he tours.
01. The Rolling Stones
Having seen the Stones in 2006, I wasn't expecting to see them in concert again for another few years. But then came the surprise announcement that the A Bigger Bang tour was rumbling back into London for three shows at the O2, which happily coincided with uber-Stones fan Sparky Ma's birthday. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Stones are an incredible sight to behold, and I will take every opportunity to see them that I can get. They are that good; in fact, they get better every time I see them. They explode onto the stage, larger than life and with more energy than many younger bands I've seen. And after about two years on tour even their newer songs have started taking on that brilliant road-worn sound that the classic hits like Satisfaction and Brown Sugar have been imbued with over the years. Two hours later, with a flamboyant bow from the premier showman Mick Jagger, they're gone. Still the best after all these years.
(honourable mentions go to Cold War Kids, who were great, and their support act, Patrick Watson, one of the best new bands I've seen and an immediate new musical obssession; The Wallbirds, who supported Elvis Perkins at the Borderline and, in my opinion were 10 times better; and the Decaydance Festival which with about five bands on the bill was simply outstanding value for money, and gave me my first chance to see the fantastic Panic! At the Disco in concert, if only for about 40 minutes though)
The new iMac which is the most amazing computer I've ever used; the Mini Clubman, which looks great, and successfully banishes any doubts I may have had over the appearance of the new, new Mini; BBC 6Music, my new favourite radio station, and a decent reason to buy a digital radio; Apple's iPhone, which is like something sent back from the future, and is so awesome I want one *now*; Leader, the new song on Phantom Planet's Myspace page that heralds the launch of their new album in 2008; running, which continues to make me feel on top of the world after 30-odd minutes pounding the streets, and makes me wonder why I paid so much money to go to a gym for years on end…
And the losers…
This summer's 'three-quel' movies: Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and Spider-Man 3 - all were disappointing in their own ways, with the latter in particular being a bloated mockery of what made the first two films so enjoyable; Um, the summer itself - what happened there? I think we had about three nice days where I could get my legs out; Comics - I got so frustrated and bored with the way some of my favourite comic book characters were being used that I ditched loads of them off my standing order; petrol prices - yes, I know we're all supposed to be watching our carbon footprint and the government don't want us to drive *anywhere*, but the simple fact is that in some instances people actually need to use a car, and the motorist is continually treated like some sort of career criminal. I remember when petrol used to be about 75p a litre - now the average is 102.8p, and I'm fed up bending over for the money-grabbers in government.