My Favorite Things of 2008

Following in the footsteps of Fraulein Maria (and Oprah too, I suppose), here are a few of the things that have been my favorites in 2008:

The buildup and payoff of The Dark Knight: The anticipation of this film, especially following the passing of Heath Ledger, was astronomically huge. No film could ever live up to hype like this. But The Dark Knight did. It more than earns the “best comic book movie ever” moniker. Seeing this film on opening night was one of the joys of my summer (and seeing it later on IMAX was also a thrill).

Almond croissants: My love affair with almond croissants goes back longer than this year, but I think it reached some sort of major turning point in 2008. It got to the point that no matter where I was—coffee shop, bakery, hotel—I would order an almond croissant. When I was in England this summer I think I had at least one a day. Really, they are quite amazing.

Friday Night Lights on DirecTV: Season 3 of Friday Night Lights premiered and has aired exclusively on DirecTV this fall, and it has been my Wednesday night mainstay. What an amazing show this is. I am continually surprised from week to week at how it sustains its high quality. Truly one of the best things on TV. It will air on NBC starting on January 16. Get into it! You’ll not be sorry.

“The Shot”: This, of course, referring to Mario Chalmers’ epic 3-point buzzer-beater that propelled my beloved Kansas Jayhawks into overtime—and ultimately victory—in the NCAA national championship against Memphis last March. The joy of that moment (after coming back from what appeared to be a hopeless 9-point deficit with 2 minutes left) is best expressed, I think, in the clip below. It shows the reaction inside Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas as diehard fans watch the game and the historic shot:

Arugula: For some reason the wonders of this exceptionally tasty leafy green never made a mark on my taste buds until this year. But in 2008, arugula rocked my world (and the world in general: it made the cover of Newsweek). I had it on pizzas, in salads, on sandwiches, and ordered it at many a bourgeois restaurant. For the last five months I’ve bought it in bulk at Trader Joe’s every time I shop there. Credit must go to Pitfire Pizza in Westwood for my newfound favorite leaf. Their “Burratta Pizza” (organic arugula, caramelized onions, hazelnuts and pesto) is shockingly addictive and a yuppie dream!

Kristen Wiig: Aside from Tina “Sarah Palin” Fey, Kristen Wiig is and was the best thing on Saturday Night Live this year. She’s unfailingly funny in every skit she’s in, and I love her reoccurring characters (Target lady, Penelope, Sue “I’m way too excited”) as well as her impersonations, like the Crazy McCain Lady, Suze Orman, or Jamie Lee Curtis.

Fresh & Easy: This chain of so-called “neighborhood markets” started popping up in my neighborhood this summer, and I’m pretty sure the handful of times I’ve been there this fall have been among the best grocery shopping experiences of my life. It’s like Trader Joes without the crowds, Whole Foods without the pretension, all with pretty low prices (20-30% lower than your average grocer) and a wonderfully European feel (probably because Fresh & Easy is part of the British Tesco grocery empire). And the best part: self-checkout is the only checkout option! And it’s easy!

N.T. Wright: You might have seen this guy on The Colbert Report earlier this year, promoting his amazing new book, Surprised by Hope. He’s the Bishop of Durham, and one of the sharpest theological minds writing today. I’ve read a lot of his stuff this year, and I’m consistently challenged and provoked by his work, but not in a “wow you have a lot of nerve!” sort of way. He’s crazy smart and yet fairly easy to read, and his sometimes-controversial (but hard to disprove or discredit) ideas about Christianity are definitely worth talking about.

The resurgence of Reformed theology: People might be shocked that I am a fan of N.T. Wright AND the resurgence of Reformed theology, but I’m convinced that the dichotomies and battle lines that have been drawn are false. In any case, I think it’s great that Calvinism is making a comeback among young Christian hipsters. I highly recommend Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed, if you want to explore this trend.

Woody Allen: This guy is crazy prolific. He’s like 74 and released two amazing movies this year: Cassandra’s Dream and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed both of these movies. Also, in 2008 I rediscovered The Purple Rose of Cairo, which is a truly marvelous little movie.