Great in ’08: Pop Culture Picks in My Rear View Mirror

There are myriad year-end lists published every December; here is my (J)opinion about the Best of 2008.


Glenn Close, Damages

Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man & Tropic Thunder

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Mary Louise Parker, Weeds

Sean Penn, Milk

Jimmy Smits, Dexter

Rutina Wesley, True Blood

The women of Mad Men


The Dark Knight

Iron Man


Slumdog Millionaire

Wall E


30 Rock


Mad Men



The Middleman

True Blood


Even better than the real thing: Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.

Hallelujah. Change has never looked better.

With the passage of Proposition 8 in California, the wedded bliss that Ellen & Portia and 18,000 other happy couples share may be revoked.  Our plans to get married are now on hold as well. Disappointment doesn’t begin to cover how I feel.

Coldplay: Viva La Vida

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs

Killers: Day and Age

Pink: Funhouse

Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak


Ben Folds w/Regina Spector: “You Don’t Know Me”

The Bravery: “Believe” & “Time Won’t Let Me Go” (tie)

Kaiser Chiefs: “Never Miss a Beat”

Kings of Leon: “Sex on Fire”

I’m sure that there are shows, films and songs I’m forgetting, so let’s blame the holiday food coma.

I hope that you enjoyed a fabulous holiday, and Happy New Year to all!

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Penn + Van Sant = Oscar MILK

Last night I had the opportunity to see Milk at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco; what a phenomenal film and an unbelievably moving experience. It was quite surreal to be sitting in the very theatre that features so prominently on screen, in the exact location where the movie was filmed and where Harvey Milk lived and worked.

The Castro Theatre is a San Francisco landmark, the most iconic locale in the Castro district. As shown in the photo above, they were showing a montage of Milk photos before the screening, accompanied by an organist on a Wurlitzer (a tradition since 1979). I can’t imagine seeing Milk in any other theater in the world, and feel fortunate to have done so among those who either lived during that politically turbulent time or recognize and respect the significance that Milk has had on their city.

On a personal note…in 1996, my first apartment in SF was a short walking block from this theatre, and the film’s neighborhood accuracies produced many goosebumps and smiles of recognition.

I stand behind my predictions and thoughts about Milk from this post back in October.  I don’t have to wait for Oscar nominations to be announced; it will earn nods for Best Picture, Best Actor (Sean Penn), Best Director (Gus Van Sant) and Original Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black).

Milk is the most socially relevant film in recent memory, an educational and heartbreaking look back at the political rise of SF Supervisor Harvey Milk in the 1970′s. To be frank, it should have been released before November 4; I truly believe that this movie could have altered the outcome of Proposition 8 in California. The parallels to Proposition 6 thirty years ago are uncanny, and Milk’s leadership to help defeat that measure illuminates the fact that we do not have the powerful voice and direction of such a person today.

Sean Penn is absolutely astounding and accurate in his portrayal of Milk. He embodies the spirit and personality of the man with great ease and joy. We’re all familiar with Penn’s intensity, anger and passion on screen, but as Milk…it was unusual to witness such mirth in his eyes and performance. Before you jump to remind me about or defend Fast Times at Ridgemont High, know that it does not count or compare in my book; it was only Penn’s second film and before he developed into one of our finest actors.

To me, Penn as Milk is on par with Ledger as The Joker. Those two actors in those two roles may prove to be among the most impressive in cinematic history (or at least for 2008).

Josh Brolin, James Franco, Victor Garber and Emile Hirsch round out a very strong supporting cast, and I was amused by out actor Denis O’Hare’s role as conservative state senator John Briggs.

I have always appreciated Gus Van Sant’s style and films, but until now my favorites have been To Die For (1995) and Good Will Hunting (1997). His direction of Milk was brilliant, seamlessly intermingling archival footage with the new. It was as if we were watching a mesmerizing documentary, narrated by the ghost of Harvey Milk.

Do I recommend Milk? In a heartbeat. It is not a ‘gay’ film or a message movie; Milk is a touching historical biography that every teenager and adult in every small town and major city needs to see.

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No ‘Save the Date’ Thanks to Prop 8

After viewing and listening to this Keith Olbermann video a few times, I started to really think about what Lisa and I are going to miss out on by not having the opportunity to get married.

This will be the last personal statement that I will post regarding Proposition 8. Frankly, the emotional reserves are drained. I am not giving up; I have just decided to no longer use this public forum and space to address the issue.

All you need is love.
How sweet it is to be loved by you.

You’re the one for me.

Nothing compares to you.
Give me a kiss to build a dream on.
I can’t help falling in love with you.

Because of those lyrics, many of you have chosen these songs for the First Dance at your wedding. I would have liked to have had that opportunity.

Hiking through Cinque Terre, Italy. Dinner at Spago overlooking the ocean on Maui. Cave tubing in Belize.

There have been several occasions during the last eleven years when we’ve been on breathtaking adventures or in spectacularly romantic locales, and it crossed my mind during each that those would have been perfect locations to propose to the love of my life. I would have liked to have had that opportunity.

Our relationship is traditional because we love one another unconditionally; through better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow. And we will continue to do so until death do us part.  We are blessed by the love and support of both families. They would have liked to have had the opportunity to participate in our wedding.

I truly do not believe that those who voted in favor of Proposition 8 in California did so from their hearts or put themselves into the shoes of those who wished for the same opportunity to wed. Imagine if you, your sibling or your own child were fortunate enough to have found a soul mate, but were not allowed to experience the elation of an engagement, the sheer bliss of a wedding day or the nervous excitement about a honeymoon.

I wish more people would have put aside their Bibles and fears just long enough to contemplate how denying someone like us the opportunity to get married was absolutely heartbreaking; we were standing together inside that glass house before it was shattered with stone votes. Supporters of Prop 8 are celebrating and continuing to get married while we are left to pick up the shards of discarded dreams.

It is also quite disturbing that many of the good folks in my home state of California are more concerned about the living conditions of their future chicken dinner than of the hearts and souls of fellow human beings.

It is obviously too late to change a vote, but perhaps not a perspective.  I am not a political figure and I have no clout; I simply write about pop culture. But if I can open up even one dialog about the other side of Proposition 8, then I feel that this will have been worth the effort.

- Jo

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Hahn is Gone: A Surprise Exit on Grey’s Anatomy

I have been very vocal about my support for the relationship between Callie Torres and Erica Hahn on Grey’s Anatomy. So imagine my surprise and dismay to hear that actress Brooke Smith has been let go from the show. Just like that. Apparently this week will be her last episode. No end to her storyline, no resolution. Done. Gone.

I have also been a huge fan of showrunner Shonda Rhimes. However, I take umbrage with the statement that she just released regarding this news:

“Brooke Smith was obviously not fired for playing a lesbian. Clearly
it’s not an issue as we have a lesbian character on the show –
Calliope Torres. Sara Ramirez is an incredible comedic and dramatic
actress and we wanted to be able to play up her magic. Unfortunately,
we did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke’s character
would sustain in the long run. The impact of the Callie/Erica
relationship will be felt and played out in a story for Callie. I
believe it belittles the relationship to simply replace Erica with
‘another lesbian.’ If you’ll remember, Cristina mourned the loss of
Burke for a full season.”

So let me get this straight (pun intended)…you’re telling me that Callie, who slept with Mark Sloan three times in two episodes, is a lesbian now. Callie, who was the one freaking out about coming out while Hahn was embracing it – SHE’s your lesbian character? Wow. Not well played at all. And I would know.

Also, if their chemistry was the issue, why not just dissolve that storyline as they do others on the show? Why not keep Smith on as Hahn and change directions?

Apparently Smith was let go by the network, and not Rhimes. That is a baffling move, and one which I hope was not motivated by negative fan feedback regarding her character.

And although this entire matter might seem trivial to you, consider the timing…

Smith was notified about her unemployment in mid-September. WHY on earth would ABC make such an announcement (about the abrupt dissolution of one of the most visible gay relationships on television) the day before an election featuring a measure which discriminates against gay and lesbian couples?!  Strategically speaking, and from a public relations standpoint, this was a very ill-advised move.

Remember that not too long ago, this was the very show and network which chose to write Dr. Burke’s character off of the series when the actor who played that role made homophobic remarks to another actor on set. But to fire an actress because of her lack of chemistry with another actress? Wow.

For Brooke Smith’s response to this egregious situation, please visit Michael Ausiello’s interview with her on  She is a very talented actress, and a classy human being. I wish her the best and will watch whatever film or series is lucky enough to feature her next.

This is a head-scratcher indeed, and very frustrating from a fan perspective.

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Now See This: Sean Penn & Josh Brolin in MILK

Perhaps it is because of the current political climate, or perhaps it is that I used to live in the Castro District where this film takes place and was filmed in San Francisco, but the trailer for Gus Van Sant’s new movie Milk gives me goosebumps.

There is no question in my mind that both Sean Penn and Josh Brolin will be receive Oscar nominations for their performances in Milk.  I haven’t seen other actors even approaching Heath Ledger’s level in any other film this year, but this movie looks to be quite a contender during awards season.

Milk, which also stars Emile
Hirsch, James Franco, Victor Garber and Diego Luna, will be out in wide
release on December 5.  The film’s producers include Bruce Cohen and
Dan Jinks, who are the executive producers of Pushing Daisies.

For the uninitiated, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man in California to be elected to public office; he was on the SF Board of Supervisors.  In 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered in cold blood by Dan White, a conservative member of the Board who had resigned and was disgruntled. 

Before he was killed, Milk campaigned to defeat Prop 6 (The Briggs Initiative), which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools.  Thirty years later we sit on the precipice of eerily similar discrimination with Prop 8, an attempt to deny gays and lesbians the fundamental right to get married. 

I applaud Van Sant for bringing this story to life, and I really look forward to seeing Milk; to support the memory of a man who represented real hope and true change

[Insert the sound of a recognition bell going off in your head, and please vote next week]

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No on 8: A Personal Perspective

Less than 24 hours after the election on November 4, I will be going in for major surgery. That my partner of almost 12 years will be able to accompany me until I’m wheeled into the operating room or allowed in recovery afterward is not a given. 

When you’re married and your wife or husband is sick or hurt, you don’t have to prove your relationship; without hesitation or question you accompany them in the ambulance or at the hospital. That is not the case for us, two adults who are employed, pay taxes, own a home and are committed to one another forever. We are also daughters, sisters, aunts, co-workers, friends and even role models. And we happen to be two women.

To be frank, that is why it is essential to vote No on 8 in California.

In a nutshell, Prop 8 changes the California Constitution to eliminate the rights of same sex couples to marry; it denies equal protections and discriminates
against me and us and members of your family, your neighbors, co-workers, doctors, technicians, landscapers, teachers, etc.

I look forward to the day when gay marriage is simply referred to as marriage, when I have the opportunity to wed the love of my life and refer to her as my wife. Until that time, all I can do is educate and encourage.

So if you’re registered to vote in California…as you fill out your absentee ballot or when you get into that booth in a few weeks, all I ask is that you consider mine among the many perspectives about this proposition. 

For more information, please visit the official No on 8 site.

Thanks for ‘listening’ on the rare occasion when the personal supersedes the pop culture.

- Jo

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