By Dalton Del Don
It’s time for the sixth version of my year-end lists (time really does fly by), and as usual, I posted them late. But also as per usual, I hope the following is well recepted, even if it produces plenty of disagreements:
When I first started doing my year-end lists here, movies were my most covered, followed closely by TV. In fact, I could barely come up with a top-five list for music. Things have changed since (most evident by music, since I find that easier to utilize while I write, which has become a far bigger part of my life). But I also want to acknowledge how many movies (and TV shows) I’ve yet to see this year, so when considering my following rankings, realize I plan on watching the following ASAP: A Dangerous Method, Melancholia, The Skin I Live In, Shame, Our Idiot Brother, Into The Abyss, Midnight in Paris, The Trip and Young Adult.
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – My favorite movie of this franchise was No. 4, in no small part because it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, but really, no director did a truly poor job in this series, and while I actually found the first half of the two-part finale better than the latter, this compilation deserves recognition. David Yates was the final director, and I’ve heard from many people his TV mini-series “State of Play” was terrific, so it comes as no surprise he ended this properly. However, the epilogue was beyond horrific. Really, we invested in this Harry Potter heroic character to see him become a (horribly) middle-aged dude watch his kid go off to school like everyone else? Was this a bad joke? What an embarrassing ending to an otherwise worthy franchise that deserved far better.
9. Horrible Bosses – This is a shaky movie to put on a top-10 list, but it’s more of a reflection of how little films I’ve seen this year and also my affection for comedies above anything else (I did watch Super 8, Hangover 2, Hanna, and wait for it, Scream 4 to name a few I omitted here). I wasn’t opposed to Jennifer Aniston’s turn as a bad girl (and by that I mean I enjoyed seeing her attempt to deep throat a banana), but make no mistake, I imagine this movie won’t be among my top-20 after I eventually get caught up and watch the ones I missed listed above.
8. Hall Pass – My biggest takeaway from this movie was learning my friend Rachel can fit eight long necks in her Coach purse. Not that it necessarily needed alcohol. Two scenes stood out: the pickup line – “You must be from Ireland because my penis is Dublin.” And another I’ll let you guess, but it involved the hot Nicky Whelan downplaying a previous sexual relationship ironically, and I was somehow the only person in the theatre to laugh audibly. Without question, I seem to like Farrelly brothers movies more than most, as they always mix the crude with genuine in a way I appreciate. “The Three Stooges” admittedly looks terrible, but I thought “Shallow Hal” and “The Heartbreak Kid” were funny, while “Dumb and Dumber” is in my top-three of all-time (not just comedies). Moreover, “Kingpin” is in my top-five comedies, while “There’s Something About Mary” is in my top-10 (and “Me, Myself and Irene” isn’t far off that).
7. Bridesmaids – The whole “can a movie driven by females succeed?” narrative seemed a bit ridiculous, so it was nice to see this answer be a resounding yes. And by success I don’t mean at the box office, as “Bridesmaids” was definitely the funniest movie I saw in 2011. It wasn’t perfect, and it could’ve been 20 minutes shorter, but it was well written and acted, and there’s little doubt Kristen Wiig is a star. The shitting scene may have been unnecessary, but the setup felt real, and the sequence when Wiig is trying to get the cop’s attention was pretty damn good. Melissa McCarthy went and pulled a Zach Galifianakis here, essentially stealing the show.
6. Win Win – I really liked this movie, as Paul Giamatti continues to make wise decisions. It’s mostly described as “warmhearted,” but loss is the ultimate theme here. Considering the writer also wrote “The Station Agent,” one of the most underrated films of the past decade, it’s no surprise I was a big fan of his latest. I strongly recommend “Win Win.”
5. Moneyball – When I first heard about Moneyball being turned into a movie, I figured it would be a disaster. When it was later revealed Steven Soderbergh dropped out (or was kicked out), my worries only grew. Apparently, it was Brad Pitt who kept the project going, even though he’s not much of a baseball fan. That said, I don’t think it was low expectations that contributed to me genuinely liking this film, which was both far from perfect yet one of the better sports movies ever. It was ridiculous how Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were totally ignored, but the same can also be said about the book, so there’s no real foul there. And the movie’s quality shouldn’t come as a total shock with the people involved (Aaron Sorkin, Bennett Miller, the cast). Someone who’s a movie buff yet knows nothing about baseball questioned me afterward whether such a model could be long-lasting – meaning teams with money will obviously eventually catch up, right? Well, yes, that’s pretty much exactly what’s happened since.
4. The Tree Of Life – I asked my friend Chason to post this review, and here’s what he had to say: “Yeah its new agey in a really unconvincing way, overreaching, overbearing and completely self indulgent, but Tree of Life is also the best movie of the year. It was ridiculous sounding whenever I tried to describe this movie to anyone unfortunate enough to ask – Ugh everything? It’s about family, it’s about nature and nurture, it’s about what makes us human, it’s about all creatures on this earth, it’s about outer space, inner space, religion, evolution, chaos, order, science, the supernatural, dinosaurs (also the best dinosaur acting ever. Or at least since the remarkable performance given by that Triceratops in Jurassic Park 2, which was nothing short of a game changer for digital emotions but tragically overlooked because of the alien bugs from the other 1997 movie, Starship Troopers), and on and on.
However, Tree of Life is basically about what every movie is about, a character in the midst of change, specifically a midlife crisis for Sean Penn’s character. Except while most movies are like oh he feels so trapped by his job, or he just needs to stop being such a man-child and become more responsible, or he needs to stop being such a pushover. (I’d give an example for what happens for girls in these situations but major movies are still more sexist than me and as far as I can tell change for women in film is signified by two or three new outfits and maybe a makeover scene?) While Malick’s film is from the typical white male point of view, he handles the midlife crisis in the most non-reductive way imaginable. The logic goes what makes the character like this? Well his relationship to his parents and how they grew up, and what makes them like that? Well the world, and why is that like it is? Well it can be broken up into the way of nature and the way of grace, and then were onto suns exploding, Jessica Chastain flying through the cherry blossoms, and poltergeists moving furniture around. What is so masterful is the way Malick deals with Penn’s crisis in such an explosively macro way and on such a personal micro level.
They should not only give the Oscar to that boy who plays little Sean Penn but also remodel the statue itself from here on out to look like him. Ditto Pitt. Sure the ending looks really fucking stupid but at that point only the heartless won’t be sipping on that new agey kool aid, and what Malick is getting at here is not filmable anyway. At the beginning of the movie Brad Pitt drew an imaginary line for his son and ever since Sean Penn had been putting up imaginary walls for himself. By the end he crosses back through a door into a space with no divisions, where he’s free to connect to those who mean the most to him and to experience the beauty of a world that had never gone away but that he had just shut himself off from. What the life altering shit more do you want from a movie? There is an unimaginable amount of variables to affect our place in the world but for Malick it’s a choice how we experience it. The man made a movie about what every dumb comedy, or talky talky drama, or flat quirky dramedy is about and took it to the nth power. Malick does not pussy foot around or take it lightly, there is not a joke or a hint of irony in it. No shying away, no whining, no pop music soundtrack or attempt at being cool or stylish or hint of advertisers’ dirty hands or reducing the complexities down for a dumbed out sponge brained audience. It makes every other movie this year look flaccid. Timid at best. It’s over ambitious joy in trying to answer an unanswerable question.“ (Editors note: Whatever you think about my reviews here, Chason wins.)
3. Drive – The opening scene is terrific, with a heist centered around Ryan Gosling, showing his skills in suspense-filled fashion, culminating with the perfect timing at the end of a Clippers game at the Staples Center. The next half of the movie goes cheesy, and it does so for a reason, setting up the viewer for what’s to come: over-the-top violence (yes that was the point) and a switch in tone so abrupt you don’t know what hit you. I can certainly see others not liking this type of filmmaking, but I fell hook-line-sinker and thought it was brilliant. Sure, there are some holes, but Gosling’s understated performance needs to be noted, and I’m not sure many other actors could have pulled it off (at times there was no dialogue for minutes, and he utilized a toothpick that would make Carl Everett jealous). There’s no question this movie is more style than substance, but it invoked early Michael Mann, and the scene with the mask at the ocean was better than any horror film I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t in love with one decision at the end, but I’ve revealed enough already – this movie was different and daring, and I applaud them for it. This lawsuit against “Drive” was pretty great, and the soundtrack was equally as awesome. Also, good to see Albert Brooks back. Until the final month of the year, this was my favorite film of 2011.
2. The Descendants – Alexander Payne is easily one of my favorite directors. You probably don’t need me to say this, but his resume before his latest featured “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways,” which doesn’t get much better than that. Those three movies would all appear on my top-20 all-time list. “The Descendants” isn’t as good, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pretty terrific film. Maybe I related closely here because my family is also fractured and deals with some of the same BS (not that it makes me unique in any way whatsoever), but it was clear coming out of this movie I liked it far more than the other three I watched it with. A.O. Scott from the “New York Times” did a far better job than I ever could reviewing this movie, so I’m going to point you to him here.
1. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – I have a few movie buff friends who will no doubt cringe at this, and I have no argument; this is a “whodunit” mainstream movie. Of course, it’s also executed near perfectly, and I’m obsessed with David Fincher (“Se7en” is in my top-5, “Fight Club” is in my top-10, I ranked “The Social Network” No. 2 on my year-end list last year, and I also loved “Zodiac” and “The Game.” Furthermore, I decided to pretend “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” never existed). As a Fincher staple, the opening credits are legit (but nothing will ever beat “Se7en” when it comes to this), and I entered knowing absolutely nothing about the books. This movie was no doubt over-the-top, and while I would never argue this film was the “best” of 2011, it was my favorite. The “discovery” actually meant little to me (I also thought it was obvious), because it was beside the point among what else was happening, which was plentiful. The movie had about three endings, because there were that many stories going on (the actual true ending was pretty heart-breaking, which I prefer to heart-warming). I’ve read arguments why it was wrong/unnecessary to include some scenes, and those were easily the toughest to watch in many years for me. Beyond that, I’m a total sucker for this genre in general (and again, let me reiterate, the material here isn’t exactly “Citizen Kane” but Fincher executes story lines I’m a sucker for masterfully), and I thought Rooney Mara was nothing short of brilliant (and nothing short of hot). There wasn’t a film that kept me more on the edge of my seat (in nearly three hours that flew by) than “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”
First off, here are shows I didn’t watch this year (I’d rather watch a bad show with half-paid attention in the background while I write than give the same treatment to a show I know deserves my full treatment. That doesn’t mean I didn’t give full attention to some below, it’s just an explanation as to why some clearly inferior shows are listed above others I’ve yet to watch) but most certainly will: Breaking Bad, Homeland, Shameless, Enlightened, Archer and Wilfred.
And here are honorable mentions I did watch that just missed the list: Episodes, Modern Family, Damages, True Blood, Dexter, Parks and Recreation, Californication, Entourage, Bachelor Pad, The Challenge: Rivals, Weeds, 30 Rock, The Office and Tosh.O.
10. Gigolos – I wanted to put “Episodes” here, highlighting a little known show I found entirely watchable that ultimately produced one of the more surprising twists of the year at the end of its season. But then it got nominated for Best Comedy at the Golden Globes, and Matt LeBlanc actually won Best Actor for it. So instead I’m going with “Gigolos,” which might have been one of the truly craziest shows of all-time (and was totally overlooked at the Emmys). Rumors suggest these guys were actors, but I can’t decide if that makes it less or more crazy. It wasn’t one of the 10 best shows this year, that’s for sure, but instead of rehashing others (like Parks and Recreation, which while I still enjoy, it took an obvious step back this season), let’s talk about “Gigolos,” which not only “called” all other reality shows but also pushed all its chips onto the table in a big raise, as it made all others look positively tame. I can’t say there are too many redeeming qualities, but if you like bad television and/or reality shows, this pushes the envelope to say the least. I’d be shocked if there’s a season 2.
9. Workaholics – For ultimate payoffs, I enjoy dramas, but they’re so much harder to pull off, so for the most part I prefer comedies, both in film and television. Workaholics is under the radar but is also often laugh out loud funny. It’s easier to identify with some characters on the mainstream comedies on NBC, but I personally prefer the absurd when it comes to laughs.
8. The Ricky Gervais Show – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are obviously funny, but it’s Karl Pilkington who’s most fascinating on this show, as few people in this world have a more bizarre thought-process, and there isn’t even a hint of irony here. Also, I really enjoyed this riddle.
7. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – This show is hit-and-miss, but “Thunder Gun Express” was one of the most memorable things I watched this year. In fact, it’s still on my DVR.
6. Portlandia – The tone of this new series was set early, opening with this song. Season one was just six episodes and extremely quirky. One episode centered around a couple inquiring about just exactly how organic the chicken they may order for dinner was, which leads them to investigate where it was raised in order to find out how nice of a life it had. In fact, this show is so bizarre, filled with irony and the totally absurd, I can’t do it any justice, so instead I’ll just give you a few clips: House Sitter, Customers Only, Whose Dog Is This?, and Did You Read?
5. The League – I never had this show in my top-10 the previous two years, as even as a fantasy football writer I found it OK but certainly not great. However, “The League” grew into its own this year, as the Schaffer influence (also a “Curb” and “Seinfeld” writer for many years) became more apparent than ever. In fact, at times I couldn’t help but not compare it with “Curb.” And there’s a strong argument Rafi is one of the funniest characters on TV right now. I participated in a fantasy football draft with Stephen Rannazzisi last year, but there is no homerism here (although there is apparently name dropping), as I actually think the fantasy football angle might be the worst part of this show. The “Thanksgiving” episode featuring Jeff Goldblum and Sarah Silverman was a standout. Also, how good was Ruxin’s acting during the season finale?!
4. Sons Of Anarchy – Season 2 was one of my favorites ever. And while Season 3 was pretty bad, it ended with a bang. Season 4 was the exact opposite. It was really strong throughout, until its finale became a copout that essentially made everything that happened before it relatively moot. Still, I’d obviously prefer the latter, since it composed 95% of the season. Jax has developed into one of the better protagonists on television, but more importantly, Clay has become one of the worst villains in TV history. Here’s a strong review of the season finale (and season in general) by Alan Sepinwall.
3. Beavis and Butt-Head – Call me juvenile, but this is the only show I watched every episode multiple times this year. One in which Beavis teared up after sniffing an onion on his chilidog revolved around Butt-Head mocking him for crying the entire time (I mean literally nothing else happened during the episode, other than the critique periods, which have much more fodder these days with “Jersey Shore” and “16 and Pregnant” as options). Another had the duo learn that asking a father for his daughter’s hand was proper etiquette, so after requesting this repeatedly, the dad finally decided to let them down nicely, saying he doesn’t foresee his daughter marrying either of them, to which they replied “who said anything about marriage?” (Get it, they just wanted her hand). Another consisted entirely of them in an elevator, waiting to push the button that prompts the automated response to say “going down” anytime a female enters. I could go on and on, but by now you must be thinking, where did the lowbrow humor go? But I assure you, it only gets worse from there. In all seriousness, the brains behind this, Mike Judge, has directed and written three movies, and they are “Office Space,” “Idiocracy” and “Extract.” There are few funnier people alive. Although I will say if I rated these in tiers, there would be a massive break until the next one…
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm – I’m obviously biased, but Larry David absolutely killed it in Curb’s eighth season, which I thought was actually one of the best of the series. “The Safe House” was one of my favorite episodes of all-time, while “Palestinian Chicken” and “The Bi-Sexual” were A+ as well. Not to mention the redemption of Bill Buckner episode, among others. If I had the choice to have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, my answer would remain Larry David and no one else. I try not to get worked up over this stuff, but it’s such a joke “Curb” gets so ignored at award shows. Really Golden Globes, this wasn’t one of the five best comedies of the year? Johnny Galecki, Thomas Jane (I’ve watched every episode of “Hung” for some reason, and it’s terrible), and Matt LeBlanc are better actors than Larry David? Whatever you’re smoking, I want some of it. It’s a waste of burning calories, I know – “The Wire” never won any awards – so I digress. Anyway, “Curb” is my favorite show ever, and it’s never not placed No. 1 since I’ve been writing these year-end lists, until…
1. Louie – I saw Louis C.K. live this year, and he didn’t disappoint. In fact, I was with my friend Cory who had seen him earlier in the year, and as advertised, he said very little material overlapped. This aspect can’t be understated, as the best comic in the world right now doesn’t deserve credit for just being the funniest, but he rarely repeats a joke, which is frankly unheard of. You all probably know by now his setup with FX – he has total control, including editing. In fact, he turned down more money just to avoid ever getting a note from some exec who will no doubt fuck up an otherwise masterpiece. And make no mistake, this show is a masterpiece. Considering I just called him the best comic in the world, it’s a bit strange this show isn’t the funniest on TV, because it’s not trying to be. It’s definitely the weirdest. And darkest. That’s without question. And when the jokes hit they hit hard. I love Louie’s willingness not to care about norms – if he thinks a storyline has run its course, then it ends (often there are two shows in the 30 minute segment, and they aren’t necessarily broken up equally (not unlike Beavis and Butt-Head!)), and he’s had a couple of different actresses play his mom. There are no rules with Louie, and FX deserves a ton of credit for realizing what they have here (it may be a no-brainer to you and me, but don’t underestimate how clueless the TV industry is). Louie has been the best television show each of the past two years, and we should all consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be living in an era in which Louis C.K. exists.
10. Other Lives: “Tamer Animals” – At times they sound like “The National,” and I had never heard of them until this year. Workaholics, Tamer Animals and Real Estate are only on here thanks to my friend Matt’s recommendations, so cheers to him.
9. Real Estate: “Days” – This album is listenable from beginning to end, so I guess it comes down to personal preference on this age-old question (and by that I just made it up), would you prefer 10 “B” songs or three “A” songs and a bunch of “Ds” (or a reasonable facsimile of such a dilemma, you get the point). I personally prefer the latter, but admittedly that may only make sense considering the current music landscape (which may be ending soon, so I’d like to personally thank “Anonymous” here for their attack after the government seized Megaupload. They are doing God’s work). Bottom line, there are no standouts on “Days,” but it’s totally solid throughout.
8. Coldplay: “Mylo Xyloto” – After asking a friend (somewhat tongue-in-cheek because I knew he had never heard it since he was likely too busy listening to Joanna Newsom for the 10,000th time) “how sick is the new Coldplay song featuring Rihanna?” I then immediately wondered if I was the only person to ever utter that exact phrase. But I’m tired of defending Coldplay. If you strip away all extraneous aspects, you are left with a group that continuously puts out catchy albums, with their latest being no exception. Chris Martin shouldn’t be ashamed of the music he’s making (and who cares if he’s insufferable at times?), nor should those who like it. And if you’re too highbrow for it, then congratulations on your superiority. Also, get fucked.
7. Kanye and Jay-Z: “Watch The Throne” – I’m not big into rap at all, but this marks the second straight year a Kanye West album made my year-end list. Not only did “Watch The Throne’s” best song sample “Blades Of Glory,” but it produced two of the most repeatable phrases of the year (side note: my fantasy basketball team is named “Wall So Hard.” I might have to draft Jason this year to name my fantasy baseball team “That Shit Bay”). If you don’t like this album, I might “murk” you.
6. The Black Keys: “El Camino” – Are these guys capable of making bad music? I saw them in concert this year, and they were great. I also had their album “Brothers” in my top-10 last year, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. This year’s release wasn’t as long or as good, but it’s top heavy, with a few undeniable hits you’ll want to put on repeat. They have also undeniably gone mainstream, but I hate to throw the whole “sell out” label, because that’s usually inspired by jealousy and/or the reluctance to admit “your group” has simply become popular. “El Camino” also produced the best ad I’ve ever seen for an album.
5. The Decemberists: “The King is Dead” – I never gave The Decemberists a chance until I listened to this album and after being impressed, I checked out “Picaresque,” which was also terrific. After later releasing another E.P. in 2011 (highlighted by this song), it sounds like “The Decemberists” might not make any new music for some time – if ever again – which is a shame, because they are clearly talented. Love the singer’s voice, and I’m a sucker for the harmonica. At times they sound country, and I’m not sure any group utilizes as many instruments other than maybe Sufjan Stevens (seriously, how good is this song?!).
4. Foo Fighters: “Wasting Light” – I’m a big fan of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. That hardly makes me unique, but I’d rank “Wasting Light” as the genre’s best album since the 90s ended. Recorded using analog tape in the garage of Dave Grohl’s house with no computers whatsoever, this stripped down version couldn’t have worked better. In many other years, this album would be No. 1 on my list. It’s pretty crazy a group that has been together for more than 15 years just produced one of my favorite rock albums ever.
3. TV On The Radio: “Nine Types Of Light” – TV On The Radio is probably one of my five favorite bands ever. It’s hard to describe their style, and they employ multiple singers, but their latest album was their best as far as I’m concerned. I saw them in concert this year (it didn’t end well, but that’s neither here nor there, and TVOTR had nothing to do with that either way). But before the concert started I ran into Kyp Malone (don’t say I didn’t warn you about name dropping) at a nearby restaurant, and not only was he approachable (I hate doing this to celebrities, but I wanted to buy him a drink), he seemed genuinely surprised he was even recognized. Good people. My biggest dilemma was ranking this album #2 or 3.
2. Radiohead: “King of Limbs” – As anyone who’s ever read me knows, Radiohead is one of my obsessions, so while any one of their previous albums would have ranked as my favorite of the given year, I guess it might come as a surprise “King Of Limbs” doesn’t. It’s an A-/B+ at worst, but even as someone with A+ expectations, it’s hard to be disappointed by them once again producing a fantastic album, albeit on the short side. Their appearance on “The Colbert Report” was absolutely hilarious as well. But I’m willing to admit this reportedly long-lost discovered song by them (it’s not them) made me think what they could produce if they turned to music back in “The Bends” era. Please Radiohead, just one more time, if only for me.
1. Bon Iver: “Bon Iver” – This isn’t just the best album of the year, it’s one of my five favorites of all-time. LeBron James is jealous of Justin Vernon’s talent. Seriously, I’d rather SOPA pass than Bon Iver stop making music. I’d prefer this lady or this man raise my child than be deprived of ever listening to this album again. For once I was blind, now I can see. Anyone not listening to this album would be more egregious than the Colts passing on Andrew Luck or finding this true story boring. To be clear, I like Bon Iver’s latest work.
My favorite tracks (not listed above) from 2011 were: “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye, “Easy Please Me” by Katy B, “Crystalline” by Bjork, “Only If For A Night” and “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine, “We Found Love” by Rihanna, “E.T.” by Katy Perry, “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I Moved Your Chair,” “Reckless Serenade” and “All My Own Stunts” by Arctic Monkeys, “I Need a Doctor” by Dr. Dre, “How I Roll” by Britney Spears, “Powa” and “Gangsta” by tUnE-yArDs, “Uberlin” and “It Happened Today” by R.E.M., “Mine Is Yours” by Cold War Kids, “Whole Love” by Wilco, “Midnight City” by M83, “Called Out In The Dark” by Snow Patrol, “The Wolf” by Fever Ray, “Victory Dance” by My Morning Jacket, “Not Your Fault,” “People” and “Guilty Filthy Soul” by AWOLNATION, “Underneath The Sycamore,“ and “Home Is A Fire” by Death Cab For Cutie, “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey, “Good Life” by OneRepublic, “Vomit” by Girls and “Virgin” by Manchester Orchestra.
I already nearly lasted until the end of January to get this posted, so no “worst of” this year (actually my worst of occurred recently – it’s the ref who blew the premature whistle when Ahmad Bradshaw clearly fumbled with two minutes left in a tie game in the NFC Championship game in a ruling that isn’t called 97.8% of the time. I would never wish ill will upon someone, but I can’t say I’d lose sleep if that referee somehow soon contracted Syphilis).
As always, feel free to let me know what I got right, what I got wrong and what I missed in the comments.