2011 was a strange year for us. It was sort of a plateau of meh-ness, followed by some fairly deep valleys of WTF?-ness, with only the occasional peak of awesome-ness in between. It wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t a particularly good year, either. Projects that we had high expectations for – selling our condo, portions of Andrea’s business, most of my writing projects – didn’t perform as well as we would have hoped. Unfortunately, the ones we weren’t exactly expecting to be brilliant didn’t surprise us, either. So it was a humbling and discouraging year to say the least. Thankfully, as we head into 2012, I can sense that our spirits are still strong and we’ll continue to make strides in the new year. I guess that’s really all you can ask for in life, huh?
Anyway, on with the Best Of’s, which I know is what you’re all here for anyway…
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Best Movie of 2011:
Attack the Block
You probably didn’t see this movie this summer, because it was only released in a few select markets by Sony. Why? Because the characters, a group of thugs from a rent-controlled district of London, have thick English accents. The thing is, you don’t need to understand every sliver of dialog to watch giant alien gorillas stalk a bunch of Brit kids who aren’t going down without a fight. The film is very funny, has some really great characters, and spectacular action sequences. What more do you need? For more, check out my full review over at We Love Cult.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Like everyone else, I wasn’t expecting much out of RotPotA, which is probably why I was so impressed by it in the end. Who knew that watching a monkey version of Shawshank Redemption could be so awesome? Also, if you watch it back-to-back with the original Planet of the Apes, it’s amazing how closely the story of Heston’s Taylor and Caesar parallel one another. Really, the only thing they can do with the sequel at this point is match the brilliance of this one or fail miserably. Should be interesting.
Best New CD of 2011:
21 by Adele
I know, I know – this is the obvious choice. But, damn it, I really liked this CD; I can’t help it. Adele is one of the best new voices in pop music today and she has the devil may care sass to sell it. I’ve listened to this CD, as well as her previous effort, 19, so many times this year I’ve lost count. It’s a solid album and I hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg for this young, British diva.
I honestly can’t think of any other new CDs this year that really blew me away. I bought a few more, but none really knocked my socks off. Or at least nothing else has been in constant rotation for me. So, maybe next year.
Best Movie I Saw in 2011 That Did Not Come Out in 2011:
Norwegian Ninja (2010)
This was really the year of television for me, so I didn’t watch all that many older movies. However, I couldn’t help but seek this one out after I started writing for We Love Cult this summer. This is pretty much the definition of a cult film – quirky, smart, funny, and somewhat surreal – it tells the story of Arne Treholt, a real-life Norwegian politician found guilty of treason. He was not, however, actually the head of an elite team of ninja commandos that was setup by corrupted factions within the government, as the movie would (jokingly) have you believe. I can’t recommend this one enough, but know that you might need to make a few trips to Wikipedia to completely understand its brilliance. For my full review, head over to We Love Cult.
Mystery Team (2009)
I grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown books, so when I heard that there was a comedy that borrowed heavily from the genre of the boy genius detective I had to check it out. Donald Glover and his Derrick Comedy sketch troupe pals play with the tropes of the genre to creepy perfection, acting as maturity-stunted adults who are stuck in the fifth grade, still solving “mysteries” like who stuck their thumb in Mrs. Johnson’s apple pie. But when a murder lands in their laps, they attack it with the same level of naïve aplomb to hilarious results.
Best CD of 2011 That Didn’t Come Out in 2011:
Illinoise by Sufjan Stephens
I don’t remember why I finally decided to check out Sufjan Stephens’ Illinoise, which was released back in 2005, but I’m glad I did. Stephens’ voice is haunting and expressive, and the musical accompaniment is even more so. With thought-provoking, yet catchy tunes like John Wayne Gacy, Jr. and Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!, I became instantly hooked. It doesn’t hurt that the album is centered on the state I grew up in, so that many of the places and people he mentions have some built-in context for me. Even without that, though, I can still understand why this has been on almost constant rotation for me this year.
Geek Remixed Volumes I- III by Fatboy Roberts
I’ve already expressed by love for Adele’s 19, so I thought I’d throw in a sleeper hit from Fatboy Roberts, a writer/comedian/DJ out of Portland that has made three albums of pop culture-inspired music. Borrowing heavily from film scores, TV theme songs, video game music, and sound clips, he uses everything from Night Court to Star Wars to the squeaks of sneakers on a basketball court to great effect. His albums – all of which are available for free download by following the link above – have been the soundtrack to my writing for much of the past year.
Best TV Show That I Watched Live in 2011:
Game of Thrones
I didn’t know anything about A Song of Ice & Fire when I started watching HBO’s new series based on the books. But none of that mattered, because I got hooked pretty quickly. At first it was the fantasy aspect, but later it was the politics and the characters that brought me back for more. And Peter Dinklage’s incredible performance. I’m really anxious to start reading the books at some point, probably in 2012.
A tie between Doctor Who and Parks & Recreation
After an impressive debut series for show-runner Stephen Moffat, I wasn’t sure if he could bring the excitement this year for series 6 of Doctor Who. Thankfully, he did with room to spare. Even the lesser episodes were a lot of fun and helped propel the overarching story of River Song to a satisfying conclusion. I can’t wait to see what happens in the Ponds’ final series, but unfortunately it will have to wait until late-2012 when it finally airs. Bummer.
I’m proud to say I’ve been watching Parks & Rec since the very first episode. I was there through the rough first season, I felt pride when the show found its feet in season two, and now that it has become a bona fide great show, thanks in part to the Power of Swanson, I can rest assured that I’ve made the right decision. The show really expanded its overall scope this year and gave some of its side characters room to breathe, preventing it from becoming The Leslie Knope Show that it so easily could have been.
Best TV Show That I Caught Up On in 2011:
This was the year of streaming TV shows for me. Instead of watching movies, I got caught up on some of the more critically acclaimed series from the last few years.
And now for a show that I watched when it first came out, but gave up on fairly quickly, and, in hindsight, wish I hadn’t. When Community debuted, I was already sick of the “Starting a fake study group to get in the hot girl’s pants” storyline before the first episode was over. Unfortunately I didn’t stick around long enough for it to get over those growing pains and become the meta pop culture show that it has become today. Thankfully, though, we have a Hulu Plus subscription, so Andrea and I have been catching up on it with marathon sessions over the last few weeks when every season thus far became available. Now I’m one of those people upset that it’s been put on hiatus and, most likely, will be canceled after the winter break. I guess it will just have to join Arrested Development in the pantheon of Brilliant, but Canceled.
A tie between Downton Abbey and Justified
As a 36-year old dude, I should not be so obsessed with Downton Abbey, a BBC series about early-20th Century aristocrats and their servants. But this show’s characters, writing, and storylines are so engaging that I couldn’t help myself. I can completely understand why it won so many Emmys and BAFTAs.
Last year around this time, it seemed almost every year-end list featured Justified, an FX series about an FBI agent that gets reassigned (AKA punished) to his hometown district in the backwoods of Kentucky. The dynamics of the townsfolk’s relationships make for tense drama, with just a touch of bad ass-dom thrown in from Timothy Olyphant to make it exciting. I’m really glad I got on board with this one.
Best Guilty Pleasure Entertainment of 2011:
I know it’s staged. I don’t care about any of the characters except Barry. Actually, I have to admit I love watching Dave buy a locker filled with vending machines that everyone else thinks is a bust and turning around and making $70,000 on it. He’s the only one who really knows what the hell he’s doing on that show and he’s supposed to be the bad guy. Nice guys finish last, am I right?
This show is a shell of its admittedly not all that deep former self. It has become so utterly incoherent now, that every week is a surprise, because you never know what storyline is going to be suddenly brought up again after it was seemingly abandoned last season. The songs are becoming less entertaining, and the characters so shuffled, changed, and marginalized that nothing makes sense anymore. I watch now mainly for the train wreck aspect of the spectacle, rather than to gain any sense of actual enjoyment from the proceedings. This show is going to go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in television history.
Best Podcast of 2011:
Thanks to constant badgering from Andrea, I finally started listening to Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast this year. And I’m glad I did. Chris and his buddies, Matt and Jonah, are consistently funny, always have interesting guests, and have been known to offer solid advice on succeeding in your chosen geeky endeavor. Every week is entertaining and, more often than not, inspiring.
Tie between /Filmcast and Superego
I’ve been a fan of the /Filmcast for a few years now, to the point I donate $2 every month to the show without regret. I couldn’t tell you how many new TV shows and movies I’ve watched thanks to a recommendation from Devindra Hardawar, Adam Quigley, or David Chen. It’s a solid show with a solid group of guys who know their cinematic stuff.
Superego is hard to explain, which is part of what makes it so great. It’s a monthly podcast featuring some of the best underground comedians taking on the roles of hilarious characters in adlibbed sketches. It’s fast-paced, usually pretty offensive, and would probably get me fired if I didn’t have headphones on at work.
Best Book I Read in 2011:
The Hunger Games
Laugh all you want, but this series of books was pretty enjoyable. This, the first one and my favorite, was a really solid bit of genre writing that borrowed from previously written stories, but put it all together into a really fun package. The second book is a little weak, but things pick up again in the third one to help the series end with a bang. I’m definitely excited for the first movie that will be out in just a few months. I’ll be one of those teenage fangirls waiting in line on opening night, with my wife, an even bigger fan, standing right next to me.
I kept running into The Magicians this year. A bunch of websites I visit reviewed its sequel, The Magician King, to rave reviews. They inevitably discussed The Magicians in their reviews, usually giving it a simple synopsis like “Harry Potter: The College Years”. So I finally broke down and read it and I really loved this post-modern take on the fantasy novel. A world where kids know about pop culture, where the realm of magic pokes through to our world in the form of a few spells from the Dungeons & Dragons Rulebook, and where college students go through the same growing pains we all do, only they can shoot fireballs and turn themselves in geese. I’m just about finished with the sequel and am really looking forward to the third book in the series, which will hopefully come out someday soon.
Best Website of 2011:
mental_floss, Geeks Are Sexy, We Love Cult, Top Hat Sasquatch, and Mashable
I know it’s kind of a cheat to say that all the websites I wrote for were the best of 2011, but it’s true. They’re all very unique, covering different aspects of the world we live in. It’s been a real pleasure to write for them all and I’m very thankful for the opportunities they’ve given me.
This website made my thumbdrive obsolete. And I couldn’t be happier about it. The ability to sync my writing assignments to more than one computer, download files to my phone or at the office, is such a time-saver, that I really can’t describe to you how much this website has changed my entire workflow. I can now write anytime, anywhere, on any device we own – my phone, my wife’s laptop, my netbook, my work PC, and any other computer I need. I love it.
Best New Obsession of 2011:
This year, an online friend of mine, Tommy Day, asked me to be part of a podcast he wanted to start called, Bubble Pipe Theater, in connection with his website, Top Hat Sasquatch, which I occasionally write for. I jumped at the chance and it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I won’t say that I’m a brilliant commentator or anything, but it’s been fun to get into the world of audio recording. I even produced my own DVD review for a couple of movies back around Halloween. I’m really hoping to be able to make more time in 2012 for a regular series of audio reviews, as it’s something I really, really enjoy doing. This is definitely an area I want to get into more next year.
A while back I introduced you to this weird art hobby I have. At some point in 2011 I decided to work on a similar drawing that I started and put down back in 2010. It’s mainly been a really good excuse to force myself to sit and watch TV instead of writing, reading, or surfing from the time I wake up and the time I go to bed, though I don’t always succeed. I’ve made some serious progress on this drawing, but I’m not finished just yet, so it’s not quite ready to show. I’m hoping by March or so I’ll be done, and then I can start on the next one, which I already have planned.
Best Freelance Article of 2011:
Pinterest: A Beginner’s Guide to the Hot New Social Network
I can’t say if this is actually my best-written story of the year, but I can definitely say that it was my best-received story of the year. My second feature for Mashable was a pretty big hit, thanks in part to the topic – a new, very popular website called Pinterest that has been rapidly gaining traction online. In about five days time (it was just published on 12/26), the article received over 4,000 tweets, nearly 1,500 Likes on Facebook, almost 1,600 shares on LinkedIN, 230 bookmarks on StumbleUpon, and even 220 +1′s on Google+. Now factor in all the people that read it but didn’t tweet, Like, share, bookmark, or +1 the article, and that’s a whole lot of eyeballs looking at something with my byline on it. I’m pretty happy with that.
A tie between 10 Peanuts Characters You’ve Probably Forgotten and Muppet Babies: An Adorable, Deplorable Legacy
10 Peanuts Characters was probably my biggest hit on mental_floss this year. It was the perfect combination of obscure facts and pop culture that the readers seem to love nowadays. I was really happy with it myself, too.
The Muppet Babies piece was just a lot of fun to work on. Researching the vast number of “kid” spin-offs or reboots of popular franchises after the success of Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, was a blast. It seemed like every time I’d find one property that I couldn’t believe had been “kid-ified”, some other tidbit would come up that was even more egregious.
Proudest Moment of 2011:
Seeing my name in a mental_floss book
Earlier this year I had the most surreal feeling of going into a Barnes & Noble, opening the latest book from mental_floss, and seeing my name as a contributor. I had five stories chosen from the website to be included in the Best of 10th Anniversary publication and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I think the only thing that will ever top that feeling is when my daughter is old enough to appreciate the fact that her dad’s name is in a book that’s sitting on our shelf.
Watching Harper Paint for the First Time
Andrea was working on a project earlier this year and it required her to break out her paint and brushes. Harper got really interested in what she was doing and begged to be able to try. Immediately upon sitting down at the table with a blank piece of paper in front of her, she dipped the brush in and began to spread color across the page. We didn’t have to show her how to hold the brush, to dip into the paint just a little, how to wash the brush or anything; it was like a natural instinct for her. She has continued to paint on paper, but she also paints ceramic figures and wooden animals that we get from Michael’s, often in a wild array of colors. I’m not claiming she’s the next Monet or anything, but she picked up on it so quickly and gets so much joy out of it, that I can’t help but be excited to see her anytime she picks up a brush. I hope it’s a love that stays with her forever.
Project I Have the Most Hope for in 2012:
I really want this to be a focus for me in 2012. I want to get more comfortable writing, recording, editing, and releasing audio content. Whether it be movie reviews, editorials, mental_floss-type articles, or continuing to podcast with the guys from Bubble Pipe Theater, I want to gain more experience in this field. I think it’s something I could be good at if I keep working on it, and it can lead to so many great opportunities.
The National Film Registry Project
It might take me longer than one year, but I hope to really dig my heels in and kick ass on my latest writing/movie blog concept, The National Film Registry Project. THe idea is to watch and write about all 575 (and counting) films that have been deemed significant by the National Film Preservation Board as national treasures. Click here for more information and click here to follow my progress as soon as I get started after the first of the year.
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I think that about wraps up 2011, folks. It’s been a real up-and-down year for us, but I hope that the lessons we’re taking into 2012 will lead to an enlightening and enriching year ahead. And here’s hoping the same for you.
Happy New Year!