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Old Heroes for a Strange New World

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Richard Foreman/Miramax Films

The year 2008 was very strong culturally, a big improvement on 2007. In the early months of the year, it seemed like quality films were being released every week and even the summer blockbusters were of a very high standard ("Wall-E" just misses out on my top 10). One notable omission from my list is "There Will Be Blood," which I very much expected to like but found it to be an arrogant, over-rated mess. I may well revisit it in future and learn to love it. I also didn’t think much to "Of Time and the City" and I haven’t yet managed to see "Gomorrah." Although "The Dark Knight" is the third best film of the year for me (solely as a film), in its Imax format I would elevate it to first position as the richest cinematic experience of the year.

James Rocarols's Top Movies of 2008

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Seldom is my favorite film of the year also the "Best Picture" winner at the Oscars, but I’ve got no problem offering more praise to the Coens' superb masterpiece of suspense.

HUNGER Steve McQueen’s debut is evidence of an assured and natural filmmaker. Economical, beautiful, harrowing and just the right mixture of aesthetics and message.

THE DARK KNIGHT At the very least a technical triumph, from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score right down to the make-up department. Christopher Nolan’s complex, audacious sequel displays the kind of precision and obsessive attention to detail unseen since James Cameron’s pomp.

PERSEPOLIS Touching without being sentimental and enlightening without being preachy, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud’s one-of-a-kind animation is also one of the best graphic novel adaptations to date.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR A daring approach to a disturbing and timely subject. Haunting images that linger in the mind like the recurring dream that propels the plot.

[REC] The opening half an hour of this P.O.V. nightmare was one of the most arresting sequences in 21st-century horror to date. And the rest of the film isn’t so bad either.

RAMBO Some critics found Sylvester Stallone’s film to be morally dubious. But critics like Mark Kermode would have appreciated this absurdly violent exploitation classic if it had been made in the 1970s by a bunch of dodgy Italians, rather than in the more enlightened ’00s by an aging Italian-American who should probably know better.

LUST, CAUTION Ang Lee’s latest has structural and pacing problems that may have been improved in the edit, but this was still a thought-provoking meditation on the power and politics of sexual desire.

THE ORPHANAGE The second Spanish horror film in my top 10. The simple pleasures of a well-mounted ghost story with a wonderfully skeletal turn by Geraldine Chaplin.

MISTER LONELY Not a great film by any means, but it’s just so good to have Harmony Korine and his twisted worldview back.

James Rocarols's Top Albums/Singles of 2008

DAVID HOLMES "The Holy Pictures" (Commercial Marketing). Who’d have expected the Belfast boy to return with this shoe-gazing, krautrock-inspired sound? And with his own Bobby Gillespie-esque vocals?

SANTOGOLD "Santogold" (Downtown). A diverse range of styles, all adeptly covered by this talented newcomer.

PORTISHEAD "Third" (Mercury). A great return. Groove-laden and metronomic, this seems like the perfect direction for the band to go down after the cul-de-sac it found itself in at the end of the 1990s.

TV ON THE RADIO "Dear Science" (DGC/Interscope). The best album yet from the unclassifiable band.

GLASVEGAS "Glasvegas" (Sony). Heartfelt Scottish rock at its finest.

SIGUR RÓS "Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust" (XL Recordings). Slightly sunnier than usual but no less distinguished.

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" (Mute UK Indie). A typically good quality offering.

MOGWAI "The Hawk is Howling" (Matador). I’m a big fan of Mogwai. Not its finest hour but always good.

MONKEY "Journey to the West" (XL Recordings/Beggars Group). Not the kind of album to necessarily choose as background music, but more evidence of Damon Albarn’s genius.

BLACK KIDS "Partie Traumatic" (Red Int/Red Ink). As hinted at by the album’s title, Black Kids are like imagining The Cure as hedonists.

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