Before You Forget

Stephen Berkman/Roadside Attractions

The annual ritual of best-of lists can seem arbitrary, obsessive-compulsive or even narcissistic. When any aspiring critic can set up a blog or a Flixter account to get his or her two cents in, do readers even care if a critic has credentials or expertise? Do people even read movie reviews anymore, when they’ve become reliant on listicles or quotables that appear in ad copies and on Rottentomatoes? As publications around the country rush to meet the bottom line to appease shareholders, some of the most brilliant and erudite voices have become orphaned in the process. Those who are serious about a career in film criticism have probably all paused to ask whether this is still honest work or just a frivolous pursuit.

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Old Heroes for a Strange New World

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.

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'Yowamushi Santa' Is Coming to Town

Flight Master/Pony Canyon

Was it like this in the 1940s with Sinatra and all the screaming bobby-soxers? Or in the late 1960s when four mop-haired Liverpudlians laid waste to the American pop charts? This time it began across the Pacific with a novelty act and a guilty-pleasure song. But in the ensuing eight months, the J-pop boy band Shuchishin has repeatedly recaptured that lightening in its bottle. Maybe its marginal talent is comparable to the Spice Girls at best, but Shuchishin has miraculously churned out one classic after another in such a short time span that it unequivocally qualifies as one of the best pop vocal acts ever, maybe the very best.

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Maturity No Substitute for Clearasil

Hollywood Records

Once upon a time, Amelie Gillette of The Onion A.V. Club dismissed her intern’s gentle suggestion to include Miley Cyrus in The Tolerability Index. Everything associated with the Disney Channel seemed way below the radar of The Onion’s target demographics, despite the fact that stargazers have spotted The Sopranos cast members James Gandolfini and Steve Schirripa escorting their children to a New York Times talk featuring Ms. Cyrus and her achy breaky one-hit wonder father, Billy Ray. But things probably have changed at The Onion after the 15-year-old superstar stirred up controversy by baring her backside for Vanity Fair’s noted fashion photographer Annie Leibowitz, and the fact that Ms. Cyrus’s standalone debut album “Breakout” just debuted at No. 1 on Billboard.

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Pop Genie Explodes from Aladdin's Lamp

Yoshimoto R and C

“Preserve Japan!” “Soldier on, Japanese businessmen!” Slogans from post-war era Japan are hip again thanks to pop group Aladdin’s debut single “Hi wa, Mata Noboru,” released on July 30.

Aladdin is the latest musical act spawned from Fuji Television’s popular celebrity game show, “Quiz! Hexagon II.” In fact, it’s a super group that consists of two pop acts put together by “Hexagon”: female trio Pabo (Mai Satoda, Suzanne and Yukina Kinoshita) and boy band Shuchishin (Takeshi Tsuruno, Naoki Nokubo and Yusuke Kamiji). “Hexagon” host Shinsuke Shimada writes lyrics while regular guest Kei Takahara composes for the groups. The game show prominently features both acts as well as viewer-submitted home videos of children haphazardly mimicking their choreography routines.

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