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What is Best in Life : 2004
© RevolutionSF Staff
January 05, 2005

Games Editor Mark Finn

The year 2004 was one for the books. Incessant political debates that culminated in the highest voter participation since the Nixon-Kennedy election, a cornucopia of triumphs and tragedies, and the final, crushing tragedy of a science-fiction type disaster in Asia will ensure that we try our best to look forward rather than back. However, in spite of all the weird vibe negativity this year, it was a feast fit for a geek over in the arena of pop culture.

It's almost overwhelming, really, to think about how mainstream and blase everyone has become about Geek Culture. I see many diehard SF fans, readers, and nerds of all stripes grumbling and moving away from the spotlight, and that's a real shame. If anything, all of these movies, books, TV shows, and what-not are proof that We Were Right all along. With that in mind, here's my picks for the best of 2004, in no particular order:

Best Genre Movie: Spider-Man 2

You know, I think I liked this one better than the first one. I mean, there was more of everything I liked in this one, plus the added bonus of one of the coolest super hero fights on film. It's an age of miracles and wonders, and Doc Ock throwing Spider-Man around like a rag doll is proof of that.

Best Genre Movie Without an Established Trademarked Character: The Incredibles

I have an "I'll watch anything from Pixar" policy that has never let me down. And while I knew that The Incredibles was going to be, well, incredible, I didn't expect it to be so . . . fantastic. Yeah, that's the word to use. Fantastic. I'm also awarding the movie seven thousand extra cool points for the brassiest, most swinging soundtrack since Hoyt Curtin wrote the music for Jonny Quest. Honest to God.

Best Web Site: www.popcap.com

This devious little flash-based time-waster has a variety of simple yet addictive games that are just the palette-cleanser after a hard day at the office or when you're stuck trying to think of something clever and staring at a blank computer screen. Many's a time when in the midst of playing Bejeweled I find the solution to a plot complication or something like that.

Best Comic Book Series: The New Frontier (DC)

For a while, it looked as if there was nothing that was going to give Alan Moore's The Watchmen a run for its money in terms of political scope and sensibility. The brainchild of writer/artist Darwyn Cooke seems to think he was trying to pick up the torch set down by James Robinson at the end of The Golden Age. Whatever. All I know is, any comic series that opens with The Losers running ashore on Dinosaur Island has my full and complete attention. After that, Cooke heaps on brilliance upon brilliance in a more sensibly-structured real time explanation of how the DC universe might have developed in a post-WWII society. The trade paperbacks will be out soon so you can get in on the fun. It's the best thing I've read from DC in a long time.

Best Comic Book Series Utilizing the Same Old Tired Clich├ęs and Hackneyed Contrivances: Bendis' Avengers Series, "Disassembled"

Excusing the fact that Bendis decided to kill a beloved character with magic, thus insuring that everyone reading the book immediately ignore the larger parts of the story and concentrate solely on whether or not Hawkeye's death was "real" and "official" or not, "Disassembled" was a great Avengers story for one reason: it showed that for all of its vaunted continuity, Marvel has just as many holes in its armor as its distinguished competition. Really, now, The Scarlet Witch? Love her or hate her, now she's fixed.

Best Genre Book (Softcover): The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Surely every single RevSF reader is intimately familiar with Thursday Next, the intrepid book detective, and her alternate-reality 1985 where your English degree really matters. It should come, then, as no surprise that these brilliantly-written novels have finally caught on in America and the newest hardcover release, Something Rotten, was simultaneously released in England and America. For those of you out there who aren't familiar with Jasper Fforde's addictive character and world, and for those of you who are all caught up on Terry Pratchett, or for those of you who wonder why there aren't more Monty Python projects, or who perhaps think Brazil was Gilliam's best movie ever, then you really need to read all of these books.

I'm sure that's not very many of you learned RevSF readers, though.

Best Book About Robert E. Howard You Never Saw: The Barbaric Triumph, edited by Don Herron

Published by Wildside Press, this is really more of a critical anthology ABOUT Robert E. Howard, written by many of the experts and movers-and-shakers of the REH scholarly world. There's also a long essay by some hack named Finn in there about Howard's boxing interests. In spite of that, it's a well thought out book that deftly highlights some of the more recent literary criticism and theory about Robert E. Howard.

Best Nonfiction Book for Geeks: Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones

Don't call yourself a comic book geek until you read this amazing book by Jones, himself a veteran of the comic book production trenches. This is the comic book history that fills in the missing side of the multifaceted story of how comics came to be in modern culture. By focusing on the business side of things, Jones picks up the industry's underbelly and this historical treatise actually shines a lot of light on the way things are still being done today. If you've ever wondered "Why did they DO that?" the germ of the answer lies in this book.

Best Genre Book (Hardcover): Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This is just the thing to tide you over until the next Harry Potter novel comes out. A brilliant novel with a huge catalog of cool influences and amazing production. In 1806, magic is a reality, but it's also abstract, until a couple of actual wizards show up to throw the 19th century into chaos. A fantastic, not-filmable book that you'll want to read before you are the last person on the block to miss it.

Best Game: Betrayal at the House on the Hill by Avalon Hill

Listen to me now and believe me later: Board games are making a comeback. And as long as Avalon Hill keeps their production values high, you won't mind paying fifty bucks for something like Betrayal at the House on the Hill.

If the title sounds like an old B-movie (or a new B-movie, for that matter), well, that's on purpose. This boardgame lets you build your own haunted house, room by room, getting scared, taking damage, and so on. Eventually, though, you'll get to the part of the mansion where the big reveal (or haunt) occurs, and then one of the players becomes the monster, and the other players have to stop them. Best of all, you can do this fifty different times with different scenarios and plots. An awesome game that no horror or movie fan will want to pass up.

Best DVD Release: Return of the King Director's Cut

Like the academy, I waited until the last one to recommend this wonderful, butt-numbing DVD package (not that you need my say-so; don't you all have it already?). The extras are actually exhausting, emotionally and physically, but for now just pop in the movie and revel in the extra scenes, including the final confrontation with Saruman! It's real hobbity goodness.

Best Movie You Probably Never Saw: Napoleon Dynamite

If you're over 30 and you tell me that you didn't feel at least one pang of recognition throughout this whole movie, I'll call you a liar to your face. I couldn't stop laughing at this film, even as I could feel my own burning sense of shame at having been the kid who drew pictures to get attention. However, there's an uplifting message to this train wreck of a film; we make our own happiness. There's someone out there for everyone. Even Napoleon.

Best Love Note: Kill Bill Volume 2

As if Quentin Tarantino couldn't get any better than Kill Bill Volume 1, he finished his Kung Fu odyssey with a nod to his Shaw Bros. influence and a way to make Darryl Hannah an actual actress. Who knew he was so talented? I cannot wait until the pair of movies is released as a single boxed set with tons of extras (like you didn't know THAT would happen). These films have gotten a bit of a knock for being "unoriginal," but I think it's the nature of filmmaking that allows for homage without straying into plagerism. Besides, all he's really doing is showing the twentysomethings that the old stuff has value.

Best On-Screen Death: David Carradine in Kill Bill Volume 2

Man, that David Carradine is pretty damn cool. And in Kill Bill, he's cool and bad. But how charming a villain that tranquilizes Uma Thurman to force her to listen to his Superman soliloquy? And maybe YOU saw the ending coming, but I sure didn't. That Carradine . . . man, he's cool.

Best Evidence the Geek Have Inherited the Earth: The Release Date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Made National News

And no, it wasn't a slow news day, either. It was just that big a deal. This book will shatter the previous sales records set by the last one, and will outgross a movie just like the last one did. When's the last time you saw any positive story about people reading a book? I can't think of one, either. So, maybe there's hope for us all, yet.

Best TV Show: Lost

Currently, I'm watching between two and four hours of television a week. It's interesting to note that two of my four hours are on ABC and have managed to neatly bifurcate David Lynch's groundbreaking Twin Peaks. I'm talking, of course, about Desperate Housewives and Lost.

Of the two, I like Lost better, because of the "not-quite-sure-what-the-hell-is-going-on" factor is on eleven. I really want this show to have a definite ending, unlike the ill-fated and way ahead of its time Twin Peaks, but I'll be pretty happy if some of those mysteries never get answered, too, unlike the ill-fated and ultimately lame X-Files.

This show (scripted by Buffy and Alias alumni) is a great example of what happens when you pay writers to do their job. Survivor with a much better plot. Possible dinosaurs. Mysteries galore. Catch it if you can!

Continued . . .

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