Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011


I haven’t been the best slogger this year, but I thought I’d offer up a“Best of” entry, with best books, movies, and television. 

Top Ten Movies
I saw about 30 movies this year. Here were my favorites and why.

Midnight in Paris: Frothy Woody fun, and wonderful Owen Wilson performance.

Beginners: seek this out! What’s not to love about a movie about a dying gay dad and his devoted son? Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer are amazing and there are some interesting animated narrative techniques. It’s this years’ The Kids are Alright.

Bridesmaids: I could watch the scene in the bridal shop over and over again. Finally: a chick flick directed by a man who understands how gross and how funny women can be. Trivia fact: Paul Feig also directed a bunch of Nurse Jackie episodes.

Tree of Life: I loved it AND I respect those who hated it. It’s polarizing. As such it takes risks. I found it brave. Where others rolled their eyes (“dinosaurs, really?”) I sat on the edge of my seat: dinosaurs! heaven!

Drive: I may just start a fan site for Ryan Gosling, but I’m sure there are thousands of others.  He starred in my favorite movie of last year, Blue Valentine. He did make one stupid movie this year, Crazy Stupid Love, but Drive is intense, and it’s fun to watch Gosling seethe.

Ides of March: Another Gosling flick! The shadow side of idealism never looked sexier. See how a good man get corrupted by politics but somehow keeps his moral center.

Take Shelter: No one saw this, but Michael Shannon is terrific as a guy who may or may not be mad. Keeps you guessing even through the final few seconds, which I think could have been a little less ambiguous.

My Week with Marilyn: Michelle Williams also had a good year (like Gosling—whom she starred with in Blue Valentine last year). Though rather flat-chested, she is believable as Marilyn Monroe, and I like how this film told the rather tragic story of her life by focusing on just one week.

A Dangerous Method: If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be in the room when Freud and Jung were arguing, this is your movie, and if you’ve ever wondered what that would be like if Freud looked like Viggo Mortensen and Jung looked like Michael Fassbender, then run don’t walk to this smart and sexy movie!
Shame: My favorite movie of the year. Sexy, dark, and brilliantly acted by Michael Fassbender: watch your back, Ryan. Some say the pace is slow. I thought the pace was perfect. I love a movie that earns its right to go slow and seep into the nooks and crannies of your brain though a kind of cinematic hypnosis.

Okay, those were my favorite films. Before you write me about these, the answer is yes, I saw them, and no I didn’t love them: The Descendents (not funny enough or sad enough; The Help (good, but not a great movie; spoiler alert: I'm sorry but that maid at the end would not have walked off into the sunset and had a happy life--that was a liberal guilt ending if I've ever seen one); The Artist (silent, black and white: two, two, two gimmicks in one!)

Almost made my list: Margin Call, Moneyball, and We Bought a Zoo.
Haven’t seen yet: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Iron Lady.

Books
Some of these I read, some I listened to. All are noteworthy:

Role Models: John Waters’ autobiography. I think it came out in ’10, but I listened to it in ’11. Very entertaining, and shows how smart he is.

Just Kids: Also came out in ’10. Loved it. Patti Smith is probably a way better writer than rocker. All about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. If you’re not interested in either of these two, you still might like it. It’s about a friendship that was more like a marriage.

We the Animals: First novel by Justin Torres. The secret life of a tribe of three brothers, and acute observations of parenthood.

The Empty Family: short stories by Colm Toibin. Didn’t I slog about this earlier this year?
Ten Thousand Saints: Eleanor Henderson’s great new novel about a bunch of kids coming of age in New York in the 80’s. On many 10 best lists including the New York Times.


Television
Downton Abbey: Order up the first season and get ready for the second: wonderfully delicious PBS costume drama about a baronial estate in England, and the American/British family who occupy it. So much better than the revival of Upstairs / Downstairs.

Parenthood: If you don’t believe me that this is an outstanding series, read this week’s New Yorker review. It’s well written, well acted and earns every once of its sentimentality. I cry every week. Who doesn’t like crying?


Modern Family: I finally got over myself and started watching this. I was concerned the gay characters were too stereotypical. They are, but so what? The Latin mama is my favorite!

Margot Robbie
Pan Am: Guilty pleasure. No one likes this except me. When did Christina Ricci get so beautiful. And there’s this va va voom character/ stewardess played by Margot Robbie. She’s lovely and a really great actress.

Nurse Jackie: I’ve written about it here. It’s one series that has not jumped the shark.
Dylan McDermott from American Horror Story:
Now will you check it out?
American Horror Story: Seriously, how come everyone isn’t watching this? It’s the funniest, scariest, campiest, sexiest new show! Rent the first season, which just ended. It's even got Jessica Lange for god's sake! What more do you need? (And let me just say she eats up, chews, savors, and spits out every scene she's in). Do NOT watch it alone or just before you need to sleep. It will freak your shit out!

Enlightened: Listen: watch this. Of this entire post, it's almost the ONE thing I really have to insist on. I have an entire slog entry almost ready about this show, starring Laura Dern and Mike White (who also wrote Chuck and Buck and School of Rock). This is the most subversive television show in a long time. It’s a spiritual  comedy/drama that is pretending not to be spiritual by pretending to be and then laughing at its own spirituality. Ha Ha. It’s a Zen koan. It got renewed for a second season but barely. This show needs us.

My friend Ken, aka the star
of Home Made Simple
Home Made Simple: DIY show, very formulaic, except for one thing: one of my best friends, the almost famous Ken Wingard stars!
Happy New Year. Let me know what you think of my selections.