Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The best of 2007
CNN's Entertainment crew has been reading a lot, listening to a lot and watching a lot more. Here are some of our picks for the best of the year. Feel free to add your own in the comments section:

"Showbiz Tonight" Executive Producer Dave Levine:
There were not a lot of TV shows that were absolutely "must-see" to me in 2007, but two definitely stood out:
  • "Mad Men": I still don't understand why AMC's "Mad Men" never achieved the kind of success and hero worship associated with shows like "The Sopranos." This absolutely brilliant reflection of the Madison Avenue world at the turn of the 1960s was so much more than just about advertising. Compelling characters with their own personal stories were interwoven into this "anything goes" world, and Jon Hamm's brilliant portrayal of ad exec Don Draper earned him a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination. "Mad Men" will be coming back for Season Two and I, for one, am mad with anticipation!
  • "Heroes": Granted, it had some missteps when it returned for Season Two in the fall -- most annoyingly, Hiro traipsing around 16th-century Japan and the nerve-grating brother and sister, Maya and Alejandro, trying to get out of Mexico. But when the fall season ended, it all came together, made sense and most importantly, laid the groundwork for the next chapter, "Villains." That will include the full-blown return of the deliciously evil Sylar (with his powers back), who was absent most of the fall because the actor who plays him, Zachary Quinto, was off playing "Spock" in the next Star Trek movie being shot by J.J. Abrams. Beam me up, Scotty!

    Producer David Daniel:
  • Film: "Once." It sounds almost too simple: a modern-day musical about one week in the lives of a "Guy" and a "Girl" (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) as they meet, learn about each other, and become close through their music. It's both realistic and magical, works the songs into the storyline in a dozen different ways, and it simply made my soul happy.
  • Notable book: "Hate Mail from Cheerleaders," by Rick Reilly. This latest collection of 100 Sports Illustrated columns is vintage Reilly: Either he was cracking me up describing taking his 14-year-old son to an SI swimsuit photo shoot, or choking me up with inspirational stories about everyday people doing extraordinary things -- stories only tangentially related to sports, sometimes, and yet filled with the passion and teamwork and self-sacrifice and joy that sports is really all about.

    Producer Rachel Wells:
  • Book: "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert should be in contention on a best-of book list ... it appeared to be a women's book and seems to have hit a chord with men also. It concerns one woman's personal travelogue, as she goes out and looks for her real self for one full year. She's kind of doing what everyone longs to do, and tells the story with laugh-out-loud humor. Many were the times I laughed out loud amid morning rush on the subway.

    Producer Matt West:
  • Indie album: "Neon Bible," Arcade Fire (Merge): A sophomore album that easily outdoes their stunning debut. This is one of those cases where you think you like the album because it truly, and beautifully, expands on their sound, end up seeing them perform selections from it live (as I did at this year's Coachella festival), and end up loving it even more afterward. (Runner-up: "Autumn of the Seraphs," Pinback [Touch and Go])
  • Sci-fi film: "I Am Legend": Finally, a sci-fi/horror film that brings both intense action and brilliant acting to the screen, all in just 100 minutes. Will Smith, Hollywood's "Mr. Fourth of July," uses his experience as both a blockbuster action-hero as well as a serious dramatic actor to deliver a performance as the last man on Earth, fighting for survival in a world populated by mutant vampires. It stays in your head and makes you think -- just as soon as you catch your breath. (Runner-up: "Day Watch": So it's in Russian ... and it's a sequel [to 2004's "Night Watch"]. The studio marketing geniuses who wanted you to see "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" should've offered to buy you a ticket to see this instead. If you missed it, you can catch it on DVD.)

    CNN.com producer Todd Leopold:
  • Book: "Schulz and Peanuts," David Michaelis (Harper). The Schulz family may not have approved, but Charles Schulz's lonely heart and expansive soul came through in Michaelis' terrific biography, incisively sprinkled with some of the master's comic strips.
  • Books from last year in paperback this year: "Arthur & George," Julian Barnes (Knopf); "The Looming Tower," Lawrence Wright (Knopf). Barnes' novel, about a half-Indian lawyer falsely accused of a crime, and the work of Arthur Conan Doyle in freeing him, is a rich tale of justice and friendship. As for "The Looming Tower," if the cure for fear (and fear-mongering) is calm and measured knowledge, Wright's spellbinding history of al Qaeda is a tonic for our nervous, color-alerted times.
  • Album: "Back to Black," Amy Winehouse (Republic). Yes, her personal life is sad and embarrassing. Yes, "Rehab" was played far too often (though I never got tired of it). But her album, particularly the title song and "You Know I'm No Good," had the human soul to put her competition's electronic beats to shame.
  • Song: "Girls in their Summer Clothes," Bruce Springsteen (Columbia).
  • Special recognition: "Never Hear the End of It," Sloan (Yep Roc). At times it was sloppy, had too many songs (30 in all) and abruptly changed styles from one tune to the next. But, for all that, I found it endearing and -- with "Who Taught You to Live Like That?" -- hard to shut off.
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