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Himeji Castle

The Year that Was Part I, Media

2008 wasn't one of my best years. You know you're in trouble when an injury knocks you flat for an entire year, but hopefully I'm on the road to a solution. 2008 wasn't all bad either, I did have a few good times in amongst the pain and frustration. The best book I read this year is The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, which is actually a series of three books - Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. It's a sweeping historical fiction set in the 17th century, weaving sword fights and pirates with indepth discussions of scientific method, political intrigue and the seeds of our modern financial markets.

In videogame land, I was limited to the Playstation 3 games this year because of my dicky back. This meant I missed a bunch of excellent PC games (Bioshock, Mass Effect) but with a bit of luck I'll knock them over in 2009. Fallout 3 was the best game I played in 2008. Decent story, a huge, beautifully realized world, hilarious combat (Bloody Mess perk for the win) and delicious black humour spread throughout the game. Grand Theft Auto 4 was also very good, with its living, breathing open city and memorable characters. Civilization Revolution also gets a guernsey, delivering an excellent console version of the popular PC game. The controls actually work quite well, and although the game is a streamlined version of the original Civilization, there's still plenty of depth to keep things interesting.

Unsurprisingly, I watched a lot of television this year. The Wire was probably the best series, telling stories of drugs, crime, police, politics and corruption in Baltimore. The Shield followed the darker side of law enforcement in Los Angeles, and was also excellent. We've been slowly working our way through the back catalog of The Sopranos, and it's actually pretty good stuff. The UK spy series Spooks continued its tense cloak and dagger storylines, along with its fine tradition of killing off its main characters with little or no warning. Deadwood was deliciously brutal and foul-mouthed, but had a real sense of depth and elemental drama. Dexter wore a little thin in its third season, but we'll get back to it this year.

Comedy wise, The Flight of the Conchords made me laugh a lot, particularly with their hilarious songs. The Mighty Boosh took a few episodes to get into, but once they got going, their lunacy was fantastic. Top Gear continues to bring the automotive funny, and ignites the inner petrolhead inside all of us. Battlestar managed to keep the sci-fi flag flying, and it doesn't look like there will be much else to watch after it ends in 2009. Caprica doesn't interest me at all, and Heroes can go die in a fire.

I didn't visit the cinema much at all this year, but I did see a lot of movies at home. It was a good year for comic book adaptations - The Dark Knight really was great, with Heath Ledger's superbly twisted performance as the Joker stealing the show. Iron Man also delivered the goods, with Robert Downey Jr playing billionaire industrialist / crimefighter Tony Stark to the hilt. Wall-E was yet another delightful Pixar movie, this time starring a valiant cleanup droid on a future Earth piled high with trash. The latest Bond film, Quantum of Solace, wasn't quite up to Casino Royale's high standards, but was still very watchable and full of relentless ass kicking. I was taken completely by surprise by In Bruges, a darkly comedic story of two hitmen hiding out in the Belgian town of the title. Colin Farrell delivered a superb performance, which was even more amazing considering his less than stellar other recent work.

Don't Mess with the Zohan probably had the most laughs of any movie in 2008, although the story of a legendary Israeli counter-terrorist beating up Palestinians and eating copious amounts of hummus probably isn't as fun right now, with tanks rolling into Gaza. Last on the list is The Counterfeiters, a gripping German film about a group of prisoners forging Allied bank notes in a Nazi concentration camp.

Oh, and just in case you're curious - the new Indy film sucked.