Thursday, January 03, 2013

Favs of 2012

So I've been meaning to do this the past few years I've had a blog, but my posting has been so sporadic that I've never gotten around to it.  I tried to limit these selections to things that were actually published/released in the calendar year of 2012.  So, without further ado, I present to you some of my favorite things of 2012:


The Dark Knight Rises deserves a spot in this list, certainly.  Overall I thought the film was quite strong.  A bit pretentious, a bit too big for its britches, but Tom Hardy was a brilliant Bane (even if his character's motivations made little to no sense), Anne Hathaway was a more-than-decent Catwoman, and the movie had a relatively positive ending which made my wife happy if nothing else.  In my opinion, the previous installment in the trilogy is by far the best of the three, but this one was very good, indeed.

Marvel's The Avengers was the other major superhero film this year, and honestly, I think, although I'm still not entirely sure, I preferred it to DKR, if only slightly.  (You can tell how strongly I feel about that.)  Partly because I'm an incorrigible Joss Whedon fanboy, partly because...well, actually, the Joss Whedon thing might be the main reason.  But really, the dialog of The Avengers was top notch--perfect for Robert Downey Jr.--and it was a well-crafted story.  A perfect mix of comedy, action, and drama, as Joss Whedon is prone to produce.  I'm very much looking forward to the next installments, assuming they'll also have Joss's hand in them.

Lincoln, and not the Vampire Hunter one.  Thank Daniel Day Lewis in an unparalleled performance for this one.  The film was interesting, and there was some admirable acting to be had all around, but, wow...Daniel Day Lewis is Lincoln.  It seems silly to say that about a historical figure who passed away more than a century ago that no one alive can legitimately recall memories of, but,'s true.  Give him the Academy Award and get it over with, already.

Pitch Perfect was this year's Easy A (although the jokes weren't ever quite as good, in my opinion), with a sprinkle of Glee on top.  In other words, it was easily my favorite comedy of the year.  Great arrangements of the music--I really wish Beca's remixes were available on some kind of soundtrack--and great singing.  Anna Kendrick really surprised me here, but see more about that below.  (Far, far below.)  Rebel Wilson also pulled through with a hilarious performance (but, then again, when doesn't she?).  And, of course, there was profuse exposure to both vomiting and the "Aca-" prefix.  What more could one aca-ask for in a comedy?

But despite all the amazing films I've seen this year, I have to say that Les Misérables takes the cake for overall favorite.  For me, this was the best version of the musical I could imagine.  Which is strange when, musically, none of the performers produced stand-out versions of their respective songs (with the clear exception of Eponine; Samantha Barkes' version of "On My Own" is by far the best I've ever heard).  Some of the singing was, honestly, downright mediocre.  But what did absolutely blow me away was the emotion with which the characters performed (thanks in large part to the unique method of filming the musical).  The portrayal of the guts of this film is completely unparalleled on stage or otherwise, and for good reason; the stage isn't exactly the best place to get up close and personal with actors and their characters, after all.  That said, I tend to value strong characterization over powerful music, which is why this version of the production wins out overall for me, and why I'm pretty sure it's my favorite movie of the year.

Honorable Mention:  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, was actually a pleasant surprise for me.  I have to admit that, at first, I was one of the haters.  I mean, come on--three movies?  Excessive.  But after seeing this first one, I might be a convert, and it comes down to the fact that I am such a fan of Peter Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien's universe--I know this is blasphemous, but I'm pretty sure I enjoy it more than the original universe itself--that I'll take any excuse whatsoever to journey back into that world.  This movie was just such an excuse, and honestly, I think I enjoyed it more than the source.  The creative licenses taken to make the story just a bit darker, to aggrandize the scale of things, was actually spot-on for me.  Some great acting here, of course.  Martin Freeman was born to play Bilbo Baggins.  I'm ecstatic to see more of Benedict Cumberbatch as the Necromancer (and Smaug?).  The film was far from perfect, though.  Formula-wise, it followed the key plot points of The Fellowship of the Ring a bit too closely.  While I enjoyed Thorin as a strong, darker character, he was a bit too Aragorn-like for me.  But, generally, a really good film.

Movies I haven't seen yet but might have easily made it on the list:  Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Cabin in the Woods

TV Shows

30 Rock.  I just can't get enough of it.  Tina Fey is brilliant and hilarious, and I want to be her when I grow up.  Also, this show doesn't seem to have the severe decrease in quality that happens to most sitcoms in later years.  30 Rock is sitcom elite, in the same category as Seinfeld and Arrested Development.

Glee has a spot on this list, of course.  I've already written a lot about why I think this show is so great.

Breaking Bad is so dark and disturbing, and I love it.  Fantastic acting.  I've yet to see anyone chronicle one man's horrific downward spiral so well, in print or on the screen.  Except, perhaps, Joe Abecrombie.  But more on him later.

I voiced some brief thoughts about The Walking Dead a while ago.  And, honestly, my opinion of the show has only gotten higher.  It started out cool, but the cool factor was kind of it.  The second season was interesting, with some awesome story lines as well as some less-than-awesome ones.  But this third season...yeesh.  I don't know what they've done over there in that writer's room, but they've gotten it right.  Some stuff is still kind of overboard (I think it's difficult not to completely geek out and go overboard when dealing with the zombie apocalypse), but this may very well be my favorite show on television right now.

I was fortunate enough to discover Sherlock (via some vehement recommendations--almost threats, really--from my family) this year.  And this may be cheating somewhat, because I'm not sure any new episodes were actually aired in 2012, but who cares.  This show is amazing and I love it.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (a dynamic duo, indeed) are masterful in every episode.  Andrew Scott is a deliciously horrifying Jim Moriarty.  The episodes are smart, funny, and well-written.  I absolutely can't wait for the next series in 2013.  Rat, wedding, bow...


I've read an uncharacteristically small number of books this year, and an even smaller number of books that were actually published this year, as you may be able to tell by the meager pickings below (a few of which are a bit of a reach, in my opinion, to be placed on a best-of list).  Nevertheless, here are the books I most appreciated from 2012.  Because I feel a bit sheepish giving books the short end of the stick, I'll post below my favorite selections from 2010* and 2011**.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  John Green, in my opinion, is perhaps the best YA fiction writer around, and The Fault in Our Stars is beautiful.  It's about teens with cancer, and it's simultaneously horrifying, touching, depressing, and funny.  Well, maybe not simultaneously.  It's all of those things at one point or another, how about that.  Green excels at snappy, realistic teen dialog, expressing genuine emotions without any feeling of cheesy-ness, and overall telling a great story.  This is my favorite book of 2012.

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie.  This may be a close second to The Fault in Our Stars.  Abercrombie delivers another solid fantasy novel, this time spiked with western gunslinging--er, swordswinging--goodness.  I hold fast with my belief that Abercrombie is one of the best fantasy authors writing right now.  His character development and portrayal is his strongest point, and the more I read from him, the more I realize how few weak points he actually has.  Red Country was awesome.  If anything, I would have appreciated something more of a variety of viewpoints in this book, and it went a little long in some areas, but overall was a top-notch book.

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson.  While I have some serious reservations about Sanderson's The Way of Kings, this next installment in his Mistborn series was one of the best books I've read from him.  Sanderson sometimes has a tendency to wax a bit longwinded, WoK being the case in point, but this was an uncharacteristically truncated novel from him that worked out quite well.  The Mistborn world is still my favorite creation from Sanderson, and I loved seeing the continuation of it into a (yet another) fantasy western.  I'm very interested to see where he takes the rest of this series.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 Volume 1:  Freefall by Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, and Karl Moline.  How can I not love the comic book continuation of my favorite television show of all time?  Season 8 was good, if slightly outlandish, but this first installment of Season 9 seems to come back to what made Buffy great in the first place:  a girl with a calling who doesn't want it, and enemies who want to destroy all that she loves because of it.  Also: great dialog, funny one-liners, all the classic characters and then some, and so forth.  I'm very excited to see where Season 9 goes from here ("Where do we go...from here?" [little music notes]).

Other Stuff That Was Great in 2012

Red by Taylor Swift - Okay, I'm a Swiftie (is that a thing?).  I'll admit, it is weird how much I like Taylor Swift.  But hey, even I need some nice, wholesome (or angsty, relationship-heavy) media intake sometimes and Taylor Swift does the trick.  And you know what?  She's talented.  This isn't my favorite album of hers, I don't think, but it is very good.  She's yet to disappoint me.

The Heist by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - This album renewed my faith in rap music.  I've been listening to rap since elementary school, since Bone Thugs N Harmony and Naughty by Nature, and while there are a few interesting rap artists still out there, the majority are auto-tuning songs about drugs, sex, and why they are so much better than all the other rappers out there.  Macklemore doesn't rap about that.  He raps about consumerism ("Wing$"), Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule ("Ten Thousand Hours"), same-sex marriage ("Same Love"), addiction and recovery ("Starting Over"), and how cool it is to be shopping at a thrift store ("Thrift Shop").  Oh, and Ryan Lewis knows how to drop a sick beat.  It's the freshest breath of air from the music industry I've had in some time, and easily my favorite album of the year.

Anna Kendrick continues to impress.  She was in Twilight, and that was whatever.  But then she was in Up in the Air, and that was really, really good.  And then she was in Pitch Perfect, and turns out she can sing, too.  Pretty awesome.  She's almost ousted Emma Stone as my favorite young actress.  Almost.  ("Young" actress as opposed to my favorite, er, regular actress, Natalie Portman [yeesh...glad she'll never be reading this], or my favorite actress of all time, Audrey Hepburn).

Anne Hathaway, while not my favorite actress by any stretch, belongs on this list only because there seems to be an unusual number of Hathaway Haters out there.  Haters gonna hate, apologists gonna...apologize.  That's right, I'm an Anne Apologist (see what I did there?  Hathaway Hater...Anne Apologist...yeah...).  She was a great Catwoman (one of the best in my memory, although admittedly there's not much competition there), a seriously-blow-my-mind-amazing Fantine (if she doesn't scoop up the Oscar for that one, I'll have an aneurism), and she's been very good in a number of other films as well, Rachel Getting Married being the first that comes to mind.  So, please, don't hate.  Congratulate.

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  I told my brother-in-law that I watch to Stephen Colbert to laugh, and John Stewart to stay vaguely informed (because, let's face it, regular news programs are just boring--although Anderson Cooper isn't half bad a journalist/reporter/whatever he is, if you ask me).  My brother-in-law replied that he also watch to Stephen Colbert to laugh, but he watches John Stewart to get angry.  Either way, both statements are pretty accurate.  If you watch Colbert, you're going to laugh.  And if you watch Stewart, you're going to be vaguely informed, and get angry (although whether it's at Stewart himself or the stories he covers will depend drastically on your personal politics).  Anyway, these guys are brilliant, hilarious, and our nation (or, at least, our late-night cable) would be less than it is without them.

Benedict Cumberbatch.  Sherlock in Sherlock.  The Necromancer, and Smaug, in The Hobbit.  The villain in the new Star Trek film (whoever it is...I'm still hoping for Kahn, but let's be realistic).  He's bad, he's British, and his baritone voice is a special effect in and of itself.  Seriously, just check out the trailer below.  It's ridiculous.  So, yeah, coolest actor around, basically.

And, well, that's it for me.  This was a crazy long post, so if any of you actually made it here, to the end, with me, kudos and congratulations.  You are probably my mother.  I accept that, and embrace it.  Thanks, Mom :-).

*  Top 10 Books I read (but were not necessarily published) in 2010:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Best European Fiction 2010 ed. Aleksandar Hemon
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

**  Top 10 Books I read (but were not necessarily published) in 2011:
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 by Joss Whedon and various other writers and artists
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
Feed by Mira Grant
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

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