Thursday, January 31, 2013


Nathan Bransford, over at his blog, recently posted his top 100 favorite films of all time, and challenged some of his readers to do the same.  So, being that I've been sick lately and don't have the energy to do much other than watch and/or think about films, I've decided to take him up on the challenge.

This was difficult, but not as hard as I thought it would be.  My favorite movies are all pretty present in my mind, to my surprise (and thanks to my Facebook page).  I did organize the list in a somewhat unconventional way, though.  I've divided my list into "tens,"--my first ten being my top 10 favorite movies in no particular order, my second ten being my next ten favorite movies in no particular order, and so forth, if that makes any sense.  It's always been very difficult for me to say one specific film is my "favorite of all time," so this felt like a good compromise.  I'm sure I've forgotten a few amazing films on here, and I'm sure my tastes will change sooner rather than later, but as of now, this is what I'm thinking.  So, here we go:

First Ten:
Black Swan
The Dark Knight
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Godfather
Garden State
Deep Water
No Country for Old Men

Second Ten:
Les Miserables (2012)
Pan's Labyrinth
Leon The Professional
Shaun of the Dead
Donnie Darko
Schindler's List
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker

Third Ten:
Easy A
Gran Torino
The Shawshank Redemption
Moulin Rouge
Rachel Getting Married
Citizen Kane
Groundhog Day
The Empire Strikes Back

Fourth Ten:
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Jerry MacGuire
The Godfather Part II
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Lives of Others
The Princess Bride
The Wrestler

Fifth Ten:
Om Shanti Om
V for Vendetta
District 9
Fight Club
The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
Ingloriouse Basterds
The Departed
Infernal Affairs

Sixth Ten:
(500) Days of Summer
Casino Royale
I Am Legend (Alternate Version)
Dan in Real Life
Pitch Perfect
Say Anything
Dead Poet's Society
Hotel Rwanda

Seventh Ten:
The Avengers
Singin' in the Rain
The Truman Show
Gone With the Wind
Back to the Future
Star Wars
The Breakfast Club
When Harry Met Sally
Love, Actually

Eighth Ten:
Disney's Hercules
Star Trek (2009)
Like Crazy
Requiem for a Dream
About a Boy
Gross Pointe Blank
Spirited Away
Interview With the Vampire
Pride and Prejudice

Ninth Ten:
Mean Girls
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Kill Bill (Vol. 1 & 2)
The Incredibles
The Goodfellas
The Dark Knight Rises
Raiders of the Lost Arc
Forget Paris
The Graduate
Little Women

Tenth Ten:
The Cove
She's All That
The Recruit
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Return of the Jedi
The Exorcist
Cast Away
A League of Their Own

Feel free to take the challenge yourself!  If you do, let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

No Story Left Behind (or: My Thoughts on The Book of Mormon Girl)

I know it's a bit early to call, but The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks may be one of my favorite reads of 2013.

The book is honest.  That's really what it comes down to.  What makes it even more applicable to me is that, well, it is so freaking applicable to me.  If I read an honest book on Islamic culture, I'm sure I would appreciate the sincerity there, but there's just not much for me to relate to, for obvious reasons (I'm not a Muslim).  I am, however, a Mormon.  In fact, I'm a liberal, progressive, feminist* Mormon, which seemed to be a key demographic of the book's audience.  The Book of Mormon Girl was particularly refreshing to me because it was being so honest about things that I craved to discuss honestly.  Making sense, much?

The book essentially chronicles Ms. Brooks' childhood as a "root beer" in a land of "cokes"--an adequate metaphor for growing up as a Mormon in a land of people who aren't Mormon--and then goes on to relate her experience with the LDS church as a feminist, intellectual, and progressive liberal.  Her assessment of the culture and overall feel of "growing up Mormon," with CTR rings and pioneer ancestors and relatives in Utah and the Osmonds and everything is uncannily accurate.  She gives special attention to her own faith throughout the book, talking about doubt, about how her faith was sometimes shaken or undermined, and about how, despite all of these things, she never quite lost faith in and love for Mormonism.

And she went through some pretty trying times.  As a middle-class white Mormon guy, just the perspective of growing up female in the LDS Church was eye-opening.  There were issues I never considered, growing up, that all of my Mormon friends-who-were-girls had to deal with.  I like to think that I've begun to be more aware of those issues in the last few years, and hopefully in many ways I have, but this book proved that I (and the LDS membership as a whole) still have a great deal to learn in that arena.

It was fascinating to read about her perspective on the "September Six" and the events surrounding that little controversy.  In the early 1990s, BYU fired a handful of professors.  Many of those professors, along with a few other liberal feminists in the Church, were also excommunicated.  I remembered hearing about the infamous "purging of the English department" during my undergraduate and graduate degrees, in whispered corners from other students and off-hand allusions from professors, but was always very frustrated at everyone's (including my own) inability to talk about the controversy openly.

Hearing Ms. Brooks discuss her association with the experience was eye-opening and fascinating.  She didn't receive any specific Church discipline for her progressive beliefs (at least not that she specifies in the book), but rather felt a constant worry that she might lose her membership in the Church she had grown up in, the religion she had loved, simply for voicing her own beliefs:
Mormons like me found ourselves in the grip of a terrible turn in Mormon history, in the grip of a fear provoked in part by the strength of our Mormon feminist vision:  a fear of the full, glorious, strange, and difficult humanity of our Mormon past. . . . It took a decade to come to terms with the fact that the Church we loved had declared us its enemies.
She imposed on herself an exile of sorts, during which time she stayed away from the LDS Church, mostly, it seems, out of fear of being shunned (if not excommunicated) for her unorthodox beliefs.

Ms. Brooks doesn't pull any punches when it comes to discussing LDS history.  Many Mormons might find the way she discusses Mormonism offensive; I don't believe that's true.  She says it best herself:
These are the unspoken legacies we inherit when we belong to a people:  not only luminous visions of eternal expanses of loving-kindness, but actual human histories of exclusion and rank prejudice.  We inherit not only the glorious histories of our ancestors, but their human failings too, their kindness, their tenderness, and their satisfaction with easy contradictions. . . . We inherit all the ways in which our ancestors and parents and teachers were wrong, as well as the ways they were right:  their sparkling differences, and their human failings.  There is no unmixing the two.
The LDS Church is made up of people, and people, as a general rule, screw up.  Often.  All the time, in fact.  Ms. Brooks is simply honest and up front about that fact.  And as honest as she is about Mormonism's dark times, she's just as honest about it's bright points, both of history and of doctrine.

Lest I paint the book a little too brightly, let me be clear:  I didn't think it was perfect.  Her raw, unrefined but truthy writing style was certainly atypical.  (Actually I really appreciated her writing style as well...again, refreshing.)  Oh, here's a critique:  I was never quite clear what the situation was with her exile.  It seemed self-imposed, but I wasn't sure if there were other factors behind it (other than her association with some of the September Six and some of the LDS Church's declarations around that time period).  I would have appreciated a bit more clarity on how she got to the point where she considered exile, as well as how she decided to come out of it.**

But really I don't have many bad things to say about this book.  And I think, again, it comes back to honesty.  "I grew up in a world," she says,
where all the stories I heard arrived at the same conclusions:  the wayfarer restored, the sick healed, the lost keys found, a singular truth confirmed.  And an orthodox Mormon story is the only kind of story I ever wanted to be able to tell.
But these are not the kinds of stories life has given me.
Every Mormon carries with them a bundle of stories like a suitcase of family secrets. . . . Sacrifices we refuse to believe God would ask of us.  Stories of loss that do not end neatly with restoration and stories of leaving that do not conclude with the return home.
In the world I grew up in it was not okay to tell unorthodox stories.  We did not hear them in church.  We did not read them in scripture.  But sooner or later they break through to the surface in every Mormon life, in every human life, in every life of faith.  I am not afraid of them.  Because this is the story life has given me to tell.
After two and a half decades of trying to decide what to do with these types of stories in my own life, I'm finally learning to not be afraid of them, either.   That's one particular lesson I hope I never stop learning, and one that I pray the membership of the LDS Church picks up on, as well.  We need those unconventional stories about Mormons.  We need to hear that people aren't perfect, that they screw up, and that sometimes they come back from that, but sometimes they don't.  Those stories are in our scripture, but they seem to have lost their way into our culture.  But books like this one --and hopefully many more things like it--are helping to bring those stories back.

One final caveat:  while this is a great book, I don't think its the most informative source to learn about mormonism., or the Book of Mormon itself (the actual book, not the musical), would probably be the best references for something along those lines.  But, if you're looking for one person's experience with the LDS religion and culture (especially if you're interested in how progressivism, liberalism, and feminism could possibly have a place in said culture), I highly recommend The Book of Mormon Girl.***

*  Or pro-feminist, depending on your particular brand of feminism.

**  Of course, some of these experiences of hers may be of a sort that she doesn't feel comfortable to share publicly (perhaps they're too sacred, perhaps they're too embarrassing, perhaps...who knows).  But even if that's the case, I would have appreciated some hints in that direction.

***  Also, if you're interested in more about Joanna Brooks, I recommend one of her sites, Ask Mormon Girl.  It's a fascinating advice blog that attempts to answer some of those difficult questions--at least from one woman's perspective :-).

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Pep Talk

"Don't stop believing...unless your dream is stupid." [Then you should get another dream.] - Journey

Who knew, right?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Good News!

I've been waiting to post about this until I actually had some tangible proof on the interwebs to prove it, but that may not happen for a while (but as soon as it does, you'll see the link on this blog!) so, well, here goes.

I'm a semi-finalist in Q4 of the 2012 Writers of the Future contest!!!!!!!

Okay, so I know that doesn't sound like much.  I mean, semi-finalist, who cares, right?  Well, turns out making semi-finalist in this comp is actually kind of a big deal.  Just a brief run-down of how things work in this competition:

First of all, it's the largest and most prestigious competition of it's kind.  It's an international competition, and every quarter the competition receives somewhere between 1000-1500 stories.  Of those entries, eight are chosen as finalists.  Of those finalists, three are placed first, second, and third, sent to a writing workshop with a bunch of pro writers (most of whom are judges for the comp), and some crazy gala awards ceremony thing they put on every year.  Oh, and those that place get a fair chunk of cash for winning (between $500-$1000, I think), too.

As far as I can tell, only a few semi-finalists are named for each quarter--usually between three and ten.  The general feeling I get from speaking with people on the WotF forum (many of whom have been semi-finalists, finalists, and winners of the competition) is that a story is marked a semi-finalist if it was essentially a finalist-quality piece, but just didn't make the cut for one reason or another.  Essentially, making semi-finalist means that the story was in the top 10 or 15 of 1000+ entries...pretty cool, no?

Each quarter, a hundred or so (usually a tenth of the entries, it seems) Honorable Mentions are named as well.

So, basically, I feel pretty awesome about my story making semi-finalist.  Part of the awesomeness of being a semi-finalist is getting a personalized critique from the coordinating judge (David Farland).  In his critique, Mr. Farland actually told me they actually received three apocalyptic stories that were finalist caliber material during Q4, but could only choose one (they generally try to keep a pretty wide genre spread each quarter, as the stories that place are compiled each year into a short story collection and published--check out last year's collection here).  So, yeah, that's neat.

It's basically a glorified personal rejection, but it feels pretty good to receive.  And, of course, I'm going to continue submitting to the comp (I submitted a story for Q3 of 2012 but received a flat out rejection), and continue hoping for the best.  But I must say, it's nice to hear some good news every once in a while :-).

8 Feb 2013 EDIT:  Apparently there are a bit more semi-finalists each quarter than I'd originally thought; the numbers are closer to 8-10 than 1-5, so I've changed that number above.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Outlining and Story Structure

I'm a discovery writer, aka gardener, meaning I generally don't do a lot of outlining before I jump into writing.  I prefer to start with a situation and some characters, and then see where things go from there.

But that doesn't mean that outlining has no place in my writing process.

In my current project, for example (my novel [very] tentatively titled Before the Dark), I've already discovery written the first draft.  I didn't have an outline when I wrote it.  I had a vague idea of where I wanted things to end up, but even those ideas were blown out of the water by what actually ended up happening pretty organically.  But, now that I'm tackling the revisions and trying to produce a coherent second draft, I'm running into some difficulties.  Most of those difficulties are of an organizational nature.

So, I've turned to outlining after-the-fact.

This may seem completely backwards to many of you (and for many of you, it probably is--writing is relative, after all), but for me this technique often solves many of those organizational issues.  Getting my ideas out there, in the first draft, is often the easy part compared to organizing them into some sort of recognizable story in the second draft.  The same was true for me when writing academic papers as well, and I used this outlining technique often when I was in school, for research papers and short stories and even with some of my essays.

I was actually pretty resistant to using this technique this time around, though.  And, now that I think about it, I usually whine a bit or put up some sort of pathetic, pouty fight before succumbing to the idea.  A part of me still wants to believe in the purity of the muse, I think, and keep that dream alive.  But the pragmatist in me knows how silly that is, and knows how much more important hard work and tenacity are than what little inspiration my muse has ever really given me.

I'll admit, I've never outlined anything remotely this large before (my novel currently sits at 190k words).  I had to approach it a few different ways before I finally found a method that worked for me.  But when I finally found a method that worked, things really took off.

I'd heard the folks over at Writing Excuses* mention a 7-point outline before, but hadn't put much stock into it because, hey, I'm a discovery writer and should despise outlines by nature, right?  Wrong.  At least I was.  So I realized my transgression, repented, and took the 7-point story structure idea for a spin.

I've been very pleasantly surprised by the results.

A bit about the structure itself:  Dan Wells is the one who has sort of commercialized the form, it seems (although he admits he stole the idea from a role playing game manual ... O.o).  He has a brief explanation and a link to a great power point presentation here, and I'll also post the first video in a youtube series, in which he presents said outline, below.   All in all it's great stuff, but here's the basic structure of the outline:

  1. Hook - where things begin (usually the polar opposite of the Resolution)
  2. Plot Turn 1 - introduce conflict
  3. Pinch 1 - something goes wrong, bad guys attack, general peace is destroyed
  4. Midpoint - where character decided to start ACTing instead of REACTing
  5. Pinch 2 - apply more pressure:  a plan fails, mentor dies, bad guys seem to win, etc.
  6. Plot Turn 2 - the "final piece to the puzzle" of the character's struggle
  7. Resolution - where things are, well, resolved--it's what the story has been working towards the whole time!
I won't go into a lot of detail because Mr. Wells explains things much better than I could (check out the links if you want more info!  Seriously!).  It's pretty elementary stuff, and honestly it seemed a bit too rudimentary for me, to begin with (I don't know why I thought that, other than my own stupid pride).  But as I applied it to my story, things sort of just fell into place.

Of course, my whole novel doesn't boil down to one simple 7-point outline.  Each of my main characters actually has one 7-point outline to themselves, and some characters even have more than one outline addressing various conflicts.  So even though the form itself seems simple, things can get complicated pretty fast, which was good considering Before the Dark is much more complicated than I ever intended it to be.

The good news is that I'm pretty much finished with the outlining process at this point, and I feel pretty good about it.  I already feel much more direction and purpose regarding my revisions.  I'm excited to get back into the swing of things and make this thing into a real, cohesive novel.

I'm also a full advocate of the 7-point story structure form, now, which is something I never thought I'd be.  But there you go.  Something new every day!

*  A phenomenal podcast about writing.  If you're at all interested in the craft, you should check out a few episodes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Because I can't stop watching this:

What the Leviathan?!

Vikings, Ultralisks, Siege Tanks, oh my!

BOOM goes the Battlecruiser!

If you can't tell, I'm really excited for the next installment in the StarCraft universe.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections on A Memory of Light (or: Why I Love Things that Depress Me)

I finished reading A Memory of Light on Saturday, 12 January, 2013.  It was good.  Like, really good.  I know it was good, because I was depressed after I finished it.  In fact, I'm still a bit depressed, when I think about it.  And I couldn't be happier about that.

Let me explain.

The onset of a certain depression after finishing a book or TV series, or set of movies, is a sure sign that said media has cut me deep.  I could almost count the number of times this has happened to me on one hand:  (1) finishing the game Final Fantasy VII in middle school, (2) finishing The Lost Years of Merlin series in high school, (3) watching The Return of the King in the theater for the first time, (4) watching the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and (5) watching the last episode of Battlestar Galactica.  There might be two or three other works that haven't come to mind yet that also deserve a place on this list, but really, that's about it.

The aforementioned media aren't necessarily my all-time favorites.  Some of them are, others aren't quite.  They don't all have the best writing I've ever scene, although some of them certainly do.  Most of those works are actually very inconsistent in one way or another--the acting isn't always top notch, or there are some holes in the story, or parts that go on too long.  None of these works are perfect*.

But they all seem to have effected me in this particular way.  I love them, and then they end, and then I'm really, really sad.  Actually, it's maybe more accurate to say that I love the characters, and then the story ends, and then I'm really, really sad.  For me, it's all about characters.  They're what really drive the stories I love.  So when those stories end, and I suddenly lose all contact with these characters I've grown to love, it's actually quite upsetting for me.  I come to the sudden realization that these characters will no longer be such an integral part of my life, and that is always a very sad time.  Bittersweet, of course, because I love seeing these people characters live complete their lives arcs, but difficult because it is also a goodbye.  I can return to these worlds and characters, of course, but I'll never live the experience like I did the first time around.

I can't quite pinpoint exactly what sets these works apart from the hundreds of other things I've read and watched, but there's something there.  Of course, there's something to be said about the length of things.  If you read 5+ books, or watch 5+ TV seasons, in any given series, you're bound to grow some kind of attachment to the characters.  At least I am.  But there's more than that.  I loved Harry Potterbut I wasn't depressed when I finished reading those books.  Same with the Ender series, AngelLost, and all sorts of other things.

There's some combination, something that tweaks me just so, and each work on the list I gave above has it, whatever it is.

And, having finished A Memory of LightThe Wheel of Time series now joins that elite company.

I will say, however, that The Wheel of Time has not been my favorite series by any means.  The first 6 books were quite good.  Books 7-11 were, for the most part, a real chore.  And that's five books.  For the most part I've been pleased with what Brandon Sanderson has done with the ending of the series, but these last few books have their flaws, too.  Part of me sees some reason behind the decision to change what was supposed to be a 12-book series into a 14-book series, but part of me is also pretty annoyed.  It feels a bit like a Peter Jackson maneuver, if you catch my meaning.  And this last book...well.  One battle takes up about 500 pages, one chapter covering 250 pages or so of said battle.  The rest of the book is...other battles.  There's lots and lots of battles and fighting.

Of course, what do I expect?  It's the Last Battle, after all.  But seems things could have been trimmed down just a bit.

The POVs are pretty jumpy, too--more so in this last book than usual.  It was very difficult (perhaps "annoying" is a better word, here) to keep track of who was fighting where and who was with whom and so forth.

Well, enough about the imperfections.  There were others, but I don't want to dwell on them.

There were some really awesome things that happened in this last book, too.



Giant deathgates.

And, of course, there was the ending.  The ending really did make it all worth it.  That's kind of cliche, I know.  But in a series like this, a series that has had so many fantastic highs and almost as many dismal lows (in so many more ways than one), the ending really makes or breaks the thing.  That last bite, the final taste, is what people take with them.

Mine was, I think, nearly perfect.  I was delightfully depressed, and felt the missing-ness (as we say in Italian...) of the characters as soon as I finished the last word.  It was lovely, and sad, and wonderful all at once.

So thank you, Robert Jordan, and thank you, Brandon Sanderson.  It's been a long journey (even for me, and I entered the game late--right around when book 10 came out, I think), but it's been worth it.  Like I said, there are very few works that have the power to depress me.  But this was one of them, and I'm grateful for it.  I look forward to the next, whatever that may be.

May the dragon ride again on the winds of time.

*  Except for Buffy.  Buffy is perfect.

I'm back...

Some personal crises sort of came up last week.  Hopefully they don't make a habit of showing their faces often.  Or ever again, for that matter.  But, for now...let the blogging (and, more importantly, the writing) begin!  Er, recommence! know what I mean.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Great minds think alike (part 2)

I've expressed my views on gun control.  Mainly:  I think we need more of it, and I think it's crazy how some gun activists are still refusing to even discuss the issue.

President Obama sent out a video to the hundreds of thousands of people who signed the online petition to begin a serious discussion on gun violence a few weeks ago.

Finally, it's Jon Stewart's turn:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Scapegoat Hunter
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Scapegoat Hunter - Gun Control
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Thanks, Jon.  And do us all a favor:  never go on vacation again.  We need you.

Hope this conversation continues and we start seeing some progress on this issue.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Brief Thoughts on The Wheel of Time

I've been reading the final book in The Wheel of Time series--A Memory of Light--on and off for the past day or so.  Two thoughts:  (1) I too often forget how slow of a reader I really am.  I'm only on page 200 or so, and I've been reading for at least a 5 hour chunk of time, total.  I don't know.  That seems slow to me, anyway.  (2) I forget how seriously epic this series really is.  Honestly, it's never been my favorite set of books--it's never even been my favorite set of fantasy books--but, wow.  As far as scope goes, and climactic battles between good and evil and all that, this one kind of takes the cake*.

Hopefully I'll finish the book in the next day or two--and I'm sure a review of the book/reflection on the series will follow shortly after that.

In the meantime, here are some interesting things.  An overview video of The Wheel of Time . . .

. . . a brief thingy on Robert Jordan . . .

. . . and some thoughts from Brandon Sanderson, who has been finishing the series since Mr. Jordan passed away in 2007 (the linked post was written about a year after he was asked to finish WoT).

So far, I'm enjoying the book.  But, well, more on that later :-).

*  I've heard good things about the Malazan series, particularly in relation to its epic-ness, but I'm only partway through that one at the moment so I'll refrain from further comment.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Some Blogging Aspirations for 2013

Here's the rub:  I want to blog more.  I enjoy it, and I think it's helpful to my writing in a whole lot of ways.  That said, I hesitate to make any grand promises about how frequent I'll post or how great those posts may or may not be because, well, I'm sort of trying to avoid the whole promises-I-can't/won't-keep thing.  So I won't express any of my specific goals.  But rest assured:  I'm planning on sending more posts your way.

I'd like to start posting some more reviews, about books and movies and whatever else I feel like reviewing, for one.  Talking more about my writing goals and process might be a good idea, for me more than anyone else, really.  I might start a series about my formative influences in which I explain, hopefully briefly, some specific ways those works and creators have influenced me and my work.  And, of course, I'll continue to post my crazy thoughts on all sorts of other crazy issues.  And probably post more random pictures.

I've thought about trying out different post themes for each day of the week, but I'm not sure how I feel about that.  The only one I've come up with so far is "Formative Influence Friday," and that's not exactly a goldmine of marketing genius by any stretch of the imagination.

So, yeah.  How's that for a nebulous, non-specific new year's goal shrouded in vaguery (and redundant, bad rhetoric)?  But, if you happen to have any suggestions or requests about things I can talk about, or how I can be more prolific as a blogger, I'd love to hear them down in the comments!

In other news:  I'll be attending the Wheel of Time midnight release party tonight where I'll be picking up A Memory of Light, the last book in the epic 14-part fantasy series to end all epic 14-part fantasy series.  Serieses?  Series.  Anyway, it's kind of a big deal in my world, because I'm kind of a big nerd, and I'm really excited.  Hey, maybe that'll be the subject of one of my soon-to-be-published, more frequent blog posts.  I bet I could think of some stuff to say on The Wheel of Time.

But, hey, no promises.

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