© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Best Arts Releases Of 2008


This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Commercial success is one measure. Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" was the top selling CD of 2008. The hottest video game was Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto IV." The top rated TV show, "American Idol." The highest grossing movie, "The Dark Knight."

(Soundbite of movie "The Dark Knight")

Mr. HEATH LEDGER: (As the Joker) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We are tonight's entertainment. I only have one question. Where is Harvey Dent? You know where Harvey is?

Unidentified Man: (As Party Guest) We're not intimidated by thugs.

Mr. LEDGER: (As the Joker) You know, you remind me of my father. I hated my father.

CONAN: And there are prize winners, too, like first-time novelist Junot Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." As we look back on 2008, what film, what TV show, video game, what record or book, what cultural contribution should remembered as important or just terrific?

We'll talk with two of our favorite critics about movies and about jazz. But we want to hear about you and your interests, too. Our phone number is 800-989-8255; email, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. And let's begin at the movies with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, who joins us today from Chicago. Happy New Year's, Tony.

Mr. A.O. SCOTT (Film Critic, New York Times): Happy New Year, Neal. Nice to be with you.

CONAN: And 2008 was more than a little unusual, in that (Laughing) some of the biggest blockbusters were also some of the best movies.

Mr. SCOTT: Yes, it was I think, you know, looking back, the two movies that I think generated the most passion and the most interesting arguments, I think, were "The Dark Knight," which you just played a clip from, and also the Pixar movie "Wall-E," that seemed - both of those movies, in very different ways and with very different moods and tones and techniques, really did seem to capture the imagination of audiences and also of critics. So, those movies show up on a lot of yearend top 10 lists. And I think that, you know, looking back through a season of, you know, serious Oscar-contending movies that's been a little lackluster, the summer blockbusters were kind of the highlight.

CONAN: You mentioned "Wall-E." Of course, we heard a clip from "The Dark Knight." A very - a very wordy movie and for all the visuals, it was very dense, in terms of its…

Mr. SCOTT: Oh, why so serious?

CONAN: Yes, indeed. "Wall-E," however told its story with almost no dialogue whatsoever. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie "Wall-E")

Mr. BEN BURTT: (As the Voice of WALL-E) EVE!

Ms. ELISSA KNIGHT: (As the Voice of EVE) WALL-E!

(Soundbite of explosions)

CONAN: A movie that told us its story largely in music and boinks and sproinks and special effects and...

Mr. SCOTT: And images that were, I think, some of the most beautiful moments of cinema that I've seen in a very long time. I mean, it's an animated movie that has all of the artistry and the rich visual quality that you associate with kind of classic live-action movies. It's quite an exquisite piece of work, I think.

CONAN: We certainly saw our fair share of dogs, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Nevertheless, it seems like this...

Mr. SCOTT: Are you talking about "Marley & Me" or "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" or "Bolt" or...?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Oh, the Matthew McConaughey one with Sarah Jessica Parker. Oh, it was just awful - the floating one.

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anyway, the - but this seems to - like it's been a really good year.

Mr. SCOTT: Well, yes and no. It actually seems to me a bit off, compared to 2007, which I think was just really a cornucopia…


Mr. SCOTT: You know, where you had movies like "There Will be Blood," "No Country for Old Men" - a whole raft of movies, almost too many of them, coming out in the last months of 2007, to keep track up.

I feel like this year, it's been a little bit - certainly as far as American movies go, there hasn't been as much and it hasn't been as rich. And I've been especially kind of lukewarm on a lot of the, you know, the serious awards-trawling movies of the last part of the year.

So, I feel like if you know where to look, there's always - there are always plenty of good movies to see. I feel like the - some of the most interesting movies I saw this year were smaller films, you know, smaller scale, independent American films. And also quite a few from overseas and it's always a little bit of a frustration to me that those don't find a bigger audience. I think there were at least a half dozen really excellent French movies that were released in United States this year that I hope people (Laughing) get to.

CONAN: One that might be described as an oddity does seem to be finding an audience and could, some people say, be getting some nominations, too. Here's a clip from "Slumdog Millionaire" where Dev Patel's character appears on the Hindu version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

(Soundbite of movie "Slumdog Millionaire")

Mr. ANIL KAPOOR: (As Prem Kumar) A few hours ago, you were getting chai for the foreign (unintelligible) and now you're richer than they will ever be. What a player. Ladies and gentlemen, what a player!

CONAN: A remarkable, energetic movie.

Mr. SCOTT: Yes, a real crowd-pleaser, and a movie that almost didn't get released. It was - Warner Brothers had it and kind of didn't know what to do with it and turned it over to Fox Searchlight, which has a pretty good record of releasing kind of end-of-the-year, sort of underdog (Laughing) movies that turn some people into millionaires - you know, movies like "Juno" and "Sideways" and so on.

But this is - it's directed by Danny Boyle, who did "Trainspotting" and "Millions" and some other movies. And it has - as you say, yeah - tremendous energy - shot on location in and around Mumbai - and a lot of really vivid, powerful images, a story that just goes like a cannon ball. I mean, the momentum of this movie is amazing. And - but also a very accessible, somewhat familiar, very, you know, satisfying old-fashioned story.

It's kind of like the plot of a Warner Brother's movie from the '30s. You know, it's about the rise of a young man from the slums. His love - life-long love for his childhood sweetheart overcomes various obstacles, fights with various bad guys. It's episodic and it's tied together by this very clever conceit of the game show - of the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" - the Indian version of that. So, every time he answers a question from the host, he's taken back into another aspect of his earlier life and...

CONAN: And we find out how he could possibly have known the answer to this obscure question.

Mr. SCOTT: Yes.

CONAN: Tony Scott, one pick for one film that you think everybody should - ought to go see from 2008?

Mr. SCOTT: I really like "Milk" a lot. It's out there now with Sean Penn starring as Harvey Milk, one of the very first openly gay politicians elected in this country. He was a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors in the 1970s. He was assassinated by a fellow supervisor, by a former fellow supervisor, in 1978.

And this is a movie that is just - I think it's speaks to a lot of what's happening in this country now, not only because of Proposition 8 in California, but also it's a movie about politics. It's a movie about change, to use the word of the year. And it has wonderful performances from Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco. And it gives you, I think, a very rich and detailed sense of the time and place. And I think it's a wonderful movie. That's one of my favorites, certainly, that's out now.

CONAN: Tony Scott, thanks, as always, for your time. We appreciate it. Have a Happy New Years.

Mr. SCOTT: Nice to be here. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: A.O. Scott, film critic for the New York Times, with us today from a studio in Chicago. Well, what are the cultural highlights of the year from your point of view? 800-989-8255; email is talk@npr.org. Laura is on the line, Laura with us from Shawnee in Kansas.

LAURA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Laura.

LAURA: Hi. My pick for the phenomenon, kind of going with the movies, is actually the "Twilight" phenomenon.

CONAN: Book, as well as the first in what I suspect will be a series of films.

LAURA: Yes. I'm an English teacher and I can't tell you the response with students. Students don't read anymore unless I force them to, and my high school girls have just been tearing through them, like, in a day, they'll tear through these 400-page books. And it's incredible. And I'm actually reading them myself now, so I can have something to talk about with them.

CONAN: And are they worth reading?

LAURA: They are. They're actually very good. I like - they use very metaphorical language and it's pretty fun to read.

CONAN: All right, Laura. Thanks very much.

LAURA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Have a Happy New Year.

LAURA: You, too.

CONAN: And let's go to Justin. Justin's with us from Denver.

JUSTIN (Caller): Yes, hello. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

JUSTIN: It's not a movie, but AMC's two series, "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," I found just phenomenal. The quality, the production, the settings - I just - I was captivated by them this year. I could not take my eyes off of them and Bryan Cranston's job in "Breaking Bad" just blew me away.

CONAN: Now, that I haven't seen. I'm somewhat more familiar with "Mad Men," which, of course, is set on Madison Avenue - what? - 50 years ago.

JUSTIN: Yes, early 60s.

CONAN: And this is - one of the things that's remarkable is all of the things you see in that - some of the settings that you see, people smoking (Laughing) on camera, for example.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JUSTIN: I also really enjoyed the undertones from the 60s, with the women being in the working place and just having a secondary role to all the men in the working place. I found that the writing there was superb. It was really well done.

CONAN: Justin, thanks very much.

JUSTIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to Christopher, Christopher with us from Summerville in South Carolina.

CHRISTOPHER (Caller): Hi, Neal. I really liked the publication of Roberto Bolano's "2666."

CONAN: That I - I missed that somehow.

CHRISTOPHER: It's a wonderful book. It was obviously just published in the United States this year, but it was originally published in 2003. And I think it really brings in an international theme to the United States, which tends to be a much more insular market. It's - and not to mention, the themes of the book itself are very international. It's a wonderful book and it really gets down into your bones.

CONAN: It's a novel?

CHRISTOPHER: Yes, it is.

CONAN: What's it about?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, it begins with several European translators and critics obsessing over a German author - a very hermetical German author, and it leads them ultimately to a small town, mapped out to be Juarez in Mexico. And it's really just a wonderful read, a wonderful, wonderful book.

CONAN: And the author again is?

CHRISTOPHER: Roberto Bolano.

CONAN: OK, Christopher, thanks very much.

CHRISTOPHER: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go quickly to - this is Matt, Matt with us from Wichita.

MATT: Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

MATT: I just wanted to comment on a fabulous movie that came out this year, "The Visitor."

CONAN: "The Visitor"?

MATT: Yes. If anyone didn't see that, it was about a college professor who goes to a apartment of his that he hadn't lived for many years in New York and finds two illegal immigrants living there illegally and befriends them. And it just showed such a positive spin on some of the aspects, which is a very hot button issue in this country right now, which is illegal immigration. And I thought it was great, because one of the gentlemen in the movie who was an illegal immigrant wasn't even aware of the fact…

CONAN: Matt, thanks very much.

MATT: Because his mom had lied to him because his mom was a legal immigrant and…

CONAN: All right. Matt, thanks. I'm afraid we're going to have to run away because of time. His suggestion is the movie "The Visitor." If you have one, give us a call, 800-989-8255. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about the year in culture this hour. What were your favorite flicks? What made you forget about all the popcorn? Your favorite TV show, your favorite comic book, your favorite book - give us a call, 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. Joining us here in studio 3A is Felix Contreras, reporter and producer for NPR's arts text - arts desk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Felix, Happy New Year. (Laughing) Thanks for being with us today.

FELIX CONTRERAS: (Laughing) Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And was this a good year for jazz?

CONTRERAS: This was overall a very good year for jazz.

CONAN: And who would you begin with?

CONTRERAS: Well, let's see. I would start with Herbie Hancock winning the Record of the Year Grammy back in February, I believe it was. It was not the Jazz Record of the Year. It was the Record of the Year. The academy saw fit to see that record above all the other pop and rock offerings, which is a big deal to have jazz such a - have such a high profile and I think that any - it was good news for Herbie. It was good news for jazz. Any time that the non-jazz listening public is reminded that there are, in fact, tons, multitudes of creative musicians out there making music, I don't think that's - I think that's a good thing.

CONAN: Anybody else that you particularly wanted to point to?

CONTRERAS: Oh, let's see. This year, you know, it's - I think you could split it up into the big names and everybody else.


CONTRERAS: OK, the big names - of course, one of them is Herbie. The other one that stood out to me was David Sanborn, who's been around for a very, very long time. And he had a record out this year that was a tribute to another saxophone player, a guy named Hank Crawford, who was an older R&B jazz-style saxophonist. He actually played with Ray Charles for a long time. And Sanborn has always been very vocal about the influence that Hank Crawford on his own music and his own style.

CONAN: As you look ahead, you know - just behind and ahead - in hard times, well, you know, jazz musicians have hard times, too. Fewer people can afford to go out and see a show.

CONTRERAS: You know, that's one of the things that I'm going to be - I think a lot of people are watching this year. You know, Herbie and Dave Sanborn, they're always going to have gigs and they're going to sell records. But you know, like I said, there's everybody else and those guys are out there - and women - they're out there making music and trying to make a living.

And then, when you think about the very, very slim profit margin to running a jazz club - it's slim to none in a lot of places, you know, people are going to come out and still spend money and keep the clubs happening and keep the musicians playing and pay them a salary that they should have. It's going to be interesting to watch in this economy.

CONAN: On the basis of recordings issued this year, any people you might want us to keep an eye out for?

CONTRERAS: You know, there's a group of musicians out of Brooklyn - it's kind of a loose collective of musicians that are doing interesting things. They're all probably - I think some of them are maybe mid-30s.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

CONTRERAS: And we have a record - one of the musicians is a bassist by the name of Alexis Cuadrado, and he's got a new CD out. And it's called "Puzzles." And it includes some of the musicians, guitarists - Matthew Ship - just a lot of different people on that record. And I think that's one of the artists to look out for.

CONAN: Let's listen to a little bit from Alex Cuadrado. This is "Bright Light."

(Soundbite of "Bright Light" by Alexis Cuadrado)

CONAN: And that is deceptively simple.

CONTRERAS: It's - you know, the best stuff always is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONTRERAS: Yeah, I mean, it's got a - you know, it's one of those things that has a catchy hook to it, you know? And it's - I sort of picked that tune just to give people an idea of the fact that they're out there but sort of draw people in so that they would listen to it. Because they actually - a lot of these musicians, they're making very, very - not complex but just challenging music. There's music that'll make you think and music that'll challenge you intellectually and also keep your foot tapping at the same time.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Give us one more.

CONTRERAS: Let's see. Pat Metheny - I want to go back to a larger name. Pat Metheny had a nice record out, a trio record. And he has - Pat Metheny is an example of, like David Sanborn and this year, McCoy Tyner as well - these musicians who have to sustain a level of creativity over a long period of time and how they - it's always fascinating to me how they do that, you know? What are we going to do next that's not going to sound like the last record and the one before that?

So, Pat Metheny will break up his Pat Metheny Group and put it on a haitus and go out with these trios. And this year, it was with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez. And I had a chance to see them here in the D.C. area and, you know, they were very phenomenal.

CONAN: Here's a clip from the Pat Metheny album. This is called "Day Trip."

(Soundbite of song "Day Trip" by Pat Metheny)

CONAN: And of course, the trio might be the ensemble of the (Laughing) recession.

CONTRERAS: Of the times, yes, got to keep everybody happy, keep them paid. The other thing that stood out this year for me was 90, the number 90. It was a magic number because pianist Hank Jones, pianist Mary McPartlan and pianist Bebo Valdes - they all turned 90 this year and they all had new records out. And they're sounding, really, better than ever. I mean the age and the experience is coming through in their music.

And speaking of these older musicians, there was a video series that came out. It's the third in a series of - a video series called "Jazz Icons." And what these producers are doing is they're going to Europe, where all the state-run television systems all over Europe were employing jazz musicians from the United States that have never, ever been seen here in this country and…

CONAN: These performances, yeah.

CONTRERAS: And very rarely in Europe.

CONAN: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: So, they've got a treasure trove of archive over there. And so the third series came out and standout to me was a Bill Evans performance from the mid-50s and Oscar Peterson as well.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. David's with us from Saint Louis.

DAVID (Caller): Hi. On the musical theme…

CONAN: Go ahead.

DAVID: These days, seems like so often that you end up with an artist who comes out with one really good song, maybe two or three really good songs, and the rest of the album's just kind of separating the wheat from the chaff. But I have one that every single song is just as good, or better, than the one that came before it.

This is an indie-rock star, for lack of a better term, and I mean no insult to her - kind of coffee shop-style music, you know - the dark-haired girl with the guitar. And her name is Meiko - M-E-I-K-O - and I think it's a self-titled album. She's been featured on a couple of TV shows. They'll have it kind of playing in the background and such but just really, really good.

It's pretty rare these days, you know. And in the iTunes world, a lot of artists don't concentrate on making seven or eight or 10 really good songs, just one or two is all they need because you can go buy stuff a la carte. But this is the first album, I'm going to say in five years, that I felt like buying it because every single song on it is just as good as the last.

CONAN: Do you know Meiko?

CONTRERAS: Well, I don't know that particular artist but I mean, it goes along in line with how musicians are - have set themselves up to deal with this economy because jazz, pop, R&B and all sorts of genres - they're using the smaller - they don't try to spread a bunch. They're using a smaller market and they're using the Internet and they're using word of mouth, things like that. So, it fits perfectly in with what's going on this year.

CONAN: David, thanks for the suggestion.

DAVID: No problem. Thanks.

CONAN: Here's an email. This from Gene(ph). I loved a book of interviews with 15 well-known jazz musicians, Ben Ratliff's book, "The Jazz Ear." He asked the musicians to choose three to five pieces of music and talk about them as he and they listened to it. The musicians talk about specific riffs in the music, playing jazz and its history, spirit and their philosophies of music. I was inspired to go to the library to find the music they talked about, and their own music, to understand the influences - a great intro to some wonderful music and some wonderful people.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. And that was - it was a great series. He did Bebe Valdes. I think he did Pat Metheny. He did Roy Hanes, some of the older musicians as well as some of the younger musicians. And if I can, if you go to our Web site, nprmusic.org, we also have the same kind of - you can use it as a resource, kind of picking up on what Ben did there with the Times and his book. We have archive of all kinds of stuff. You can actually hear the music that they were talking about. And we also have a feature called Take Five, where you can learn about jazz, five songs at a time.

CONAN: And remember Dave Brubeck, too.

CONTRERAS: There you go, exactly.

CONAN: Felix Contreras, thank you so much for being with us.

CONTRERAS: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Appreciate it. NPR's Felix Contreras, who's a reporter and producer at our arts desk, with us here in studio 3A. And let's get back to the phones. This is Julian, Julian with us from San Antonio.

JULIAN (Caller): Hi.


JULIAN: I just want to comment about "Cadillac Records." I thought that film was very great, with Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters and Beyonce as Etta James, and it's got great musical performances that people should see, I think, and…

CONAN: And Mos Def as Chuck Berry. It's a great picture.

JULIAN: Yes, of course. Yeah (Laughing), yeah.

CONAN: It's the story of Chess Records in Chicago and, well, the relationship between the guy who ran the record company and Muddy Waters and, well, then, the other musicians who came up in R&B and the early days of rock'n'roll. It's just a terrific picture. Julian…

JULIAN: Was is Little Walter or…


JULIAN: Or Little Steven or something in film. And I didn't know much about him, but this film does a good job of showing him, his music.

CONAN: Little Walter, indeed.

JULIAN: Little Walter.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Julian.

JULIAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Bruce in Portland. And Bruce writes, I don't suppose anyone noticed that American composer Elliott Carter turned 100 years old on December 11th, still composing and more brilliant than ever. And for not quite exclusively musical, Arthur Lawrence, 90, still active on Broadway. Also, Mickey Rooney, 89, and Mickey Rooney still appearing on the London stage this December. My gosh. Let's put on a show.

See if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Andy, Andy with us from Cleveland. Andy, you there? I think Andy has left us. Let's see if we can go next to Ali(ph), Ali with us from San Francisco.

ALI (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Is it AL-ee or ah-LEE?

ALI: It's ah-LEE.

CONAN: OK, go ahead.

ALI: I called very early, so I was talking about in the world of contemporary dance and what I was appreciating out of 2008, (Laughing) so I'm a little out of context. What I wanted to...

CONAN: Dance is certainly a cultural event, so you qualify. Don't be shy.

ALI: OK. Not a movie, not a film, not a book, but in the world of contemporary dance, there's a young contemporary dance form. It's only 36 years old and there was an international festival that came together that had regional satellite events all over the world. The dance form is called contact improvisation, so the festival was called CI36. So, it's a fledgling postmodern dance form that's very gymnastic.

And so, what we celebrated at the festival was the fact that any new dance form, particularly about improvisation in a time when people are kind of afraid of new inventions, the fact that people came together, both using the Internet - you know, dancers using the Internet. Holy crap. - but also the fact that so many people made sure that it was an international event. Even though there was a in person place where everyone was dancing together, there were also thousands of people all over the world in regional conferences in both direct communication and Internet communication with the event that happened in Huntington, Pennsylvania this year.

CONAN: Well, Ali, thank you very much for that. Appreciate it.

ALI: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

ALI: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Rebecca. Hi, Neal. I just wanted to put in a word for Spike Lee's film "Miracle at St. Anna." It's from a book that I have not read, but I love the movie. What the film does well, I think, is express something that Andrew Greeley and others call the sacramental imagination in the traditional of other greats, such as "Mean Street" and "Breaking the Waves." And she has some nice words for our program, too.

And let's also put in a good word for another movie that came out this year. "In Bruges," a dark, I remind you, very dark comedy that's a lot of fun and it's a pretty good movie, too. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Let's go now to Marian, Marian with us from Aberdeen, North Carolina.

MARIAN (Caller): Hi, Neal.


MARIAN: Hi, well for me, when I think about 2008, a really important cultural event for me is related to politics and journalism. And that is Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin, which for me, truly revealed Sarah Palin, you know, for who she really is, you know, which was, to me, very inadequate and unprepared as a vice presidential candidate.

CONAN: Well, we like to call that journalism, which is not quite what we're talking about.

MARIAN: Well, I mean we're talking about cultural events, right?

CONAN: Yeah.

MARIAN: Well, it certainly was influential…


MARIAN: In our culture. It was a turning point.

CONAN: Indeed.

MARIAN: And, so that - that's my point. And then, of course, Tina Fey.

CONAN: Ah, that becomes a cultural event. There you are.

MARIAN: So, you know, so it was just, you know, it's kind of all interconnected there.

CONAN: Indeed. Political comedy played such a huge role in our consciousness, yeah.

MARIAN: Absolutely. I mean, I've been following politics for more than 50 years and this was, you know, this is really the (Laughing) best year, I think, for that. So, I thank you so much for taking my call.

CONAN: Marian, have a Happy New Year.

MARIAN: And Happy New Year to you. Take care. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is T.J., T.J. in Fort Pierce in Florida.

T.J. (Caller): Hi, Neal. This is T.J., yeah. I really liked the show "Fringe" on Fox.

CONAN: That's a fairly new show.

T.J.: Yes, it is. It's in Christmas hiatus now, and it's coming back in January. I started with the last episode before the break and then literally we sat down and watched all the back episodes on the DVR in one day.

CONAN: You saw them all in one day?

T.J.: Basically, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

T.J.: It's by the same guys who did "Lost." It's got J.J. Abrams on it, et cetera. And it's got the great character development of that and it's along the same themes as "The X Files," but with a more modern spin on it.

CONAN: All right, "Fringe." And it comes back after New Year's?

T.J.: Correct.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, T.J.

T.J.: Mm hmm.

CONAN: Here's a - this email from Dana in Indianapolis. I've read many books this year that I've loved, but "The Shack," a book that portrays god and Jesus as a black woman, an Asian woman, a Hispanic woman and an Arabic man, sparked interest and question amongst religious and secular circles. This is a cultural favorite of mine because the author, William Young, creates a metaphoric story that considers fundamental human questions from a non-ethnocentric perspective. Again, thanks for Dana in Indianapolis. Let's see if we can go quickly to Andy, Andy with us from Cleveland.

ANDY (Caller): Hi, Neal. Sorry I wasn't there earlier. One of the new additions to my life in 2008 is a phone with a very sensitive mute button.

CONAN: Oh, I apologize for that.

ANDY: (Laughing) Well, I just wanted to give "Iron Man" some props, so to say.

CONAN: The second largest grossing movie of the year and again, on a lot of critics' top 10 lists.

ANDY: Yes, it really helps for us the - one of my favorite comic book characters to the lips of a lot of Americans who I don't think otherwise knew who he was. And on the subject of comics, the green - and this is one of your favorites - the Green Lantern book, "The Sinestro Corps War," really redefined the action comic genre and I think it's an amazing read for fans and new fans alike. It's a really great, great book.

CONAN: Is that out in a trade paperback?

ANDY: It has been put in a trade paperback. I believe the first volume is out and - oh, I don't know if Warner Brothers is smart, they'll just shoot it frame for frame and call it a day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: OK. Green Lantern and "The Sinestro War."

ANDY: "The Sinestro Corps War," yeah.

CONAN: Corps war. Thank you very much, Andy. Appreciate it. Have a Happy New Year.

ANDY: You too, sir.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last call in. This is Rachel, Rachel calling from Denver.

RACHEL (Caller): Hi. I'm calling because "Pushing Daisies," which will not be coming back in 2009, is the greatest TV show of 2008 and I am very sad that it will not be back.

CONAN: You had a fellow traveler. Mercedes in Sunnyvale, California also nominated "Pushing Daisies" as the best TV show of the year.

RACHEL: Oh, it is. I mean it's like watching a fairytale every week (Laughing). And I have to thank it because, when my grandmother was in the ICU dying, I sat and watched it on my laptop and it just gave me this sense that you know what? It's OK, because somebody else gets to live because she died. It just made my life better.

CONAN: That's all we can ask.

RACHEL: Exactly.

CONAN: Rachel, thanks very much for the call.

RACHEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.